‘I went from having to borrow money to making $4m in a day’: how NFTs are shaking up the art world

Photo: Illustration by Craig Robinson/Getty Images/The Guardian

As reported by theguardian.com, Digital art is a billion-dollar business, with everyone from Paris Hilton to Damien Hirst trading in ‘non-fungible tokens’. But are NFTs just a get-rich-quick scheme masquerading as culture? “It’s actually a lot simpler than you think.” It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and somewhat to my surprise, I’m on the phone to Paris Hilton, who is graciously explaining the world of NFTs.

Hilton is many things – a reality star, an heiress, an unlikely lockdown fitness guru who uses designer handbags instead of weights. But until now, she has never been considered a significant player in the art world. When artists have acknowledged her, often they’ve done so to fetishise her image. In 2008, Damien Hirst bought a portrait of her by the artist Jonathan Yeo, in which her body is constructed from collaged images cut from porn magazines.

Yet in the past year she’s become a surreal figurehead in the NFT scene: a world flush with crypto dollars and high on a promise to transform the worlds of art and commerce. When we speak, Hilton has just returned from a bitcoin conference in Miami, where customers paid up to $25,000 for VIP tables at the opening party to watch her DJ in a pair of diamanté-encrusted headphones. “NFT stands for non-fungible token, a digital token that is redeemable for a digital piece of art,” she explains. “You can have it on your computer server or your phone. I have these screens in my house where I display them.”

Sure enough, at Hilton’s Beverly Hills mansion there are screens displaying NFTs she made in collaboration with the digital artist Blake Kathryn. These include a video of a chihuahua on top of a rotating ionic column (a tribute to her deceased pet Tinkerbell) and an animated self-portrait of Hilton as a sparkling CGI Barbie floating in the clouds, a piece she’s called Iconic Crypto Queen, and which she sold in April for more than $1m.
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