Among the original artworks by Matisse and Picasso, visitors to Paris' famed Centre Pompidou can now find a unique new exhibit: a CryptoPunks NFT.

It's part of a new exhibition titled “Policies of the Immaterial: From Certificate to Blockchain,” exploring the relationships between blockchain and artistic creation. Running until January 2024, the exhibition features work from 13 French and international artists selected by the acquisition committee of the National Museum of Modern Art.

Included among them is CryptoPunk #110, a non-fungible token (NFT) artwork.

"It's a real honor, obviously, but it's also quite a surprise,” Matt Hall, co-founder of CryptoPunks creators Larva Labs, told Decrypt. “It has been a wild ride, certainly over a relatively short number of years."

A piece of digital art hanging on a white wall.
CryptoPunks #110 at the Pompidou. Image: Mattis Meichler/Decrypt.

The NFT was gifted to the museum by CryptoPunks owners Yuga Labs, as part of the “Punks Legacy Project.” The firm behind the hugely popular Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) NFT collection, Yuga Labs bought the intellectual property rights to Larva Labs' NFT projects CryptoPunks and Meebits in March 2022.

NFT enters the annals of art history

The exhibit also includes examples of crypto art, net art, generative art, pixel art, and more.

Marcella Lista and Philippe Bettinelli, the curators of the exhibition, wanted to show the full spectrum of art related to blockchain. Above all, their ambition is to demonstrate how these works and artistic movements fit into the wider history of art.


According to them, it's an "original study of the crypto-economy ecosystem and its impact on definitions and boundaries of artworks, creators, collections, and the audience."

CryptoPunks, for example, fits into the pixel art movement. "We had worked on several games before, using pixel art,” said Hall. “John [Watkinson, the other co-founder of Larva Labs] had drawn many of the graphics for those. He had been experimenting with the character generator, by applying the pixel-art style he was accustomed to."

Larva Labs also have an Autoglyph, from the first-ever on-chain generative art collection, on display. Unlike most NFTs, Larva Labs’ founders figured out a way to store all the data, including the image itself, in the smart contract.

As Hall points out, "I believe what the curators appreciated about the piece was that it holds a significant place in the continuity of generative art and computer-generated art from the 1960s onward."

Pioneer artists on display

Showcased alongside various iterations of digitally-native art is work that nods to the blockchain long before the arrival of the Bitcoin whitepaper.

The oldest artwork displayed, "The Checkbook," was conceived in 1959 by French artist Yves Klein. He created these checkbooks to carry out transfers of "transferable immaterial pictorial sensitivity."

Buyers become owners of what could be called parcels of emptiness and only retain, as material proof, the sales receipt created by Klein himself, which takes the form of a check with gold lettering.
The displayed artworks have been chosen for their inclination to explore innovative concepts. French artist Fred Forest's piece, "Network-Parcel," was the first to be auctioned exclusively online in 1996.

Meanwhile, the work of French-American artist Sarah Meyonas, "Bitch Coin," represents the first artwork developed directly on the blockchain. By crafting a token with a value tied to the artist's popularity, Sarah Meyonas pioneered the concept of tokenized art.

Piece of digital art hanging on a white wall.
Sarah Meyonas 'Bitch Coin' at the Pompidou. Image: Mattis Meichler/Decrypt.

Most importantly, though, the NFTs acquired by the Centre Pompidou now belong to the French national heritage.

And as Larva Labs’ Matt Hall explained, seeing them together can be a startling experience.

Daily Debrief Newsletter

Start every day with the top news stories right now, plus original features, a podcast, videos and more.