Moon sculptures, NFTs at futuristic Art Basel fair

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The world's leading contemporary art fair has taken a futuristic turn this year, offering buyers the chance to see their sculptures placed on the moon.

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, are all the rage at the Art Basel fair in Switzerland, where the world of digital assets is taking off.

Artist Jeff Koons plans to send 125 miniature sculptures to the moon with multi-billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX company.

The sculptures -- set to be installed 384,400 kilometres (238,855 miles) apart from their owners -- will be sold as NFTs, which work like certificates of ownership.

The "Moon Phases" statues come with a photo of their lunar location, and buyers will also be able to take home a sculpture with a gemstone marking their extra-terrestrial counterpart's place on the moon.

"We're also seeing it for the first time," said Pace gallery director Marc Glimcher as he unveiled a moon-shaped statue about the size of a beach ball at his stand in Basel.

Elsewhere at Art Basel, Turkish artist Ozgur Kar's LCD display of a man surrounded by skeletons is being sold by the French gallery Edouard Montassut.

The Vive Arts platform, meanwhile, offers a dive into digital art with the help of augmented reality glasses, presenting an avatar of the German artist Albert Oehlen in a 3D universe.

The fair, which runs from June 16-19, also features a host of non-digital works -- from an installation by Franco-Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping depicting a kitchen strewn with giant cockroaches, to a series of portraits carved in wood by Franco-Cameroonian artist Barthelemy Toguo.

A spider sculpture by the French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois fetched $40 million.

Along with sales of yachts, luxury cars, watches and jewellery, the art market recovered strongly in 2021 after the shock of the pandemic in 2020.

The stock market rebounded sharply last year, swelling the coffers of the ultra-rich -- and inflation is giving wealthy collectors yet another reason to splash out on a multi-million-dollar painting.

Pace is one of the few major galleries to have ventured into the field of NFTs. According to Clare McAndrew, author of an art market report for Art Basel, only six percent of galleries sold NFTs in 2021.

Since peaking in August 2021, NFTs have plummeted. While art-related NFT sales volumes soared to $945 million in August, they fell to $366 million in January and then to $101 million in May, according to McAndrew's records.

These ups and downs don't faze the owner of the Pace gallery though, who believes that NFTs represent a "new methodology for distributing digital art".

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