BCA Talk | Jehan Chu：Buy things that are valuable to you, apart from the the cash value
Today we’re happy to have the opportunity to interview Jehan Chu who kindly borrows us Block 8, Portraits of Mind by Robert Alice for the “Virtual Niche” exhibition. Jehan is an art collector and he is very active in supporting crypto community in Asia. He is also the co-founder of Kenetic, a Hong Kong based early stage blockchain investment and trading firm.
To begin with, could you introduce yourself briefly, Jehan?
Jehan: I am the co-founder of Kenetic and managing partner. Kenetic is one of the earliest blockchain investment companies and crypto investment companies in Asia.
I was an art adviser for about 8 years until 2016, but around 2013, I actually got into Bitcoin industry. I started to invest and started to build some of the early communities like the Ethereum Meetup back in early 2014 in Hong Kong and I just grew from there. I love crypto, I love the ideas behind it. I love the ethos and the mission and the community. It is so supportive, innovative and dynamic.
In the art side I was always involved in the nonprofit side as well. Actually it wasn’t longer almost 11 years. I was on the board of Para Site Art Space which is one of the leading not-for-profit contemporary art spaces in Hong Kong. I sit on the director’s circle of MoMA in San Francisco. Just generally I’ve been supporting a lot of the art world, especially in Hong Kong.
But when I joined crypto, I really shifted a lot of my attention over to it and started Kenetic where we’ve been investing in blockchain companies and crypto companies, over 160, 170 of them to date since 2016. So we’re one of the most active investors, supporting the ecosystem in Asia.
I also have a small foundation called Social Alpha Foundation, which is our way of giving back to the world. I was very lucky in crypto to be in the right place the right time doing the right things. So, we have a key project that we supported called Open Earth, which is working on blockchain for climate change. Now that NFT art is becoming really really kind of popular and very important. I’m getting very, very deep into NFTs and back into the art world but through the lens of crypto. So that’s my story.
What do you think are the advantages that blockchain brings to the art world?
Sure. I think that, on one hand, NFT or Non-Fungible Tokens are very important to the art world. Non-Fungible Token is a unique token, where every token is different from every other token, just like the artwork every artwork is different than every other artwork.
So NFTs are a huge space in the art world now. Many artists are looking at basically issuing NFTs as artwork, purely digital art works. Obviously, the art world we had like new media for a long time for example video art and digital art. We’ve never had a system like NFTs which imposes the uniqueness and the scarcity in a digital fashion. So, let’s take like the video art these days. You get the files is in a hard drive, but that file can easily be copied, right? There’s no such thing as unique video file, but if the NFT is the kind of vehicle for that video file, suddenly it’s unique. It’s mathematically proven it’s unique.
That’s the kind of innovation, which I think it will really empowers the art world and especially the new media and digital art world. I think that’s like one of the biggest kind of technological innovations and I think it’ll drive so much creation, creativity, and support for digital artists. I think digital artists in the fine art world have been really, terribly underserved. I think that the art market collectors, they don’t really prefer digital art. I think partially because there’s no way to kind of guarantee that it’s unique and there’s a sense where it’s just less valuable. I think NFT will help that.
The other thing is that I think crypto also brings very different economic models to the art world, which I think are very important for artists. Right now, artists are subject to the the gallery system, the art fair system, the option system and they don’t have a lot of power, really, they don’t have a lot of autonomy. But with artists who are creating digital art and NFTs suddenly they can become their own gallery. Right? If they get dropped by their gallery, they can simply just issue their artworks directly to the public.
That’s not to say that galleries aren’t important, operators aren’t important, they’re all important. But they shouldn’t be the end game. They shouldn’t be the only thing. I think what we’re seeing now is the kind of opening up of channels for artists to directly to their audience and to their collectors and to the public. I think that’s a huge innovation that this kind of crypto NFT phenomenon presents and we’re only just scratching the surface it’s gonna be I think in 2 years time, the art world will look very different.
Since the NFT article is still very niche compared to the traditional art feel like, what do you think how we can motivate people or like inspire people to collect more NFT works or how can it go mainstream in the future?
To be honest, I think that it’s already happening. There’s more and more platforms that are looking at Crypto and NFTs. And the crypto world is increasingly realizing that selling NFTs for $1 million for an artist who’s only been around for 2 years is not sustainable. It’s not a real market, it’s definitely a bubble.
And I for me personally, I’m a big believer that the traditional fine art world is thousands of years old. There’s a lot of value and expertise and culture and tradition and longevity that can really add to NFT world and crypto art world. I think its inevitable that they slowly kind of come together and we won’t talk about crypto art, it’ll just be art.
What’s your motive of collecting Robert Alice’s work and what’s the story behind this collection?
We met he had actually approached me about his art project. I was really initially skeptical and then as I looked more and more into it. As I saw the physical work, I was really impressed like I was quite beautiful. The physicality of the Robert Alice “portraits of mind” was just beautiful. I think that conceptually it’s interesting. Each painting, the set of 40 paintings, is one section of the Bitcoin code base.
For Bitcoin codes, which in one sense, there’s no physical form of it, but at the same time, there’s no limit to how many times it can be copied by nature. That code is deployed on every Bitcoin code that’s running. The code is everywhere, but the code is nowhere. So This painting somehow breaks the part that code and puts it into a painting and then I can put that painting on my wall. It’s beautiful. That was kind of my motive for collecting.
The second important reason is that for people like me who are early in crypto. This painting helps to represent my culture. When collectors come into a space, they always collect local. So that was my part in the whole project helping to support Ben (Robert Alice) get the most exposure for the project as possible. And I think we did that, especially we had a great success with Christie is an option and I had lined up many bidders to try and compete for that work and they did. It was a great outcome when I excited to kind of see what’s next, but that was me, I love the work.
What kind of advice you gave to someone who want to start connecting NFT or blockchain based art?
Yeah, it’s funny because as an art adviser, whatever I think now like 8 years ago or 7 years ago, I would have said take your time. Look for 6 months before you buy anything. But I think that NFT’s difference, there is an immediacy , there is an accessibility. There’s a moment in a timing around NFT art which is much more urgent.
It’s important to practice your collecting , because the art work starts from $50, which is quite accessible. The space is changing literally on a weekly basis. And It’s important to be part of that change. It’s important to kind of follow along. So I suggest that collectors of this generation just start collecting, find artists that have good practices, good pedegree, good education, and are making work that means something to you. Then buy it with no hesitation, just go for it. Don’t wait too long.
What’s your impression of the “Virtual Niche”exhibition?
UCCA is really a landmark in the history of Chinese contemporary art , as one of the first kind of major institutions in China which help to find a lot of the discourse around contemporary art in China.
For this show, I think it’s great that UCCA is supporting this exhibition, and really being on the cutting edge of looking at the intersection of art and technology. So I think we’re just at the beginning. They’re gonna have to kind of bring this show (“Virtual Niche”) that have to do a much larger, more proper major exhibition. I think this is a great place to start.
What do I think of the similarities and differences between investing in crypto art and art in general?
As everybody will kind of tell you, I don’t think investing in art is a very good thing. Art is not really suitable as a pure investment. The way that I collect (is that) you have to buy what’s meaningful to you, don’t buy it if you don’t like it, because of it’s different than an investment with art. If you buy the art and the market goes down, it turns out the artist is important. At least if you like it, it has value that’s different than a stock or crypto. You have to have a personal connection to the work to really invest in, which is why it’s important to not just buy things that just are valuable. You should buy things that are meaningful or valuable to you, apart from the the cash value.
That’s kind of how I think about collecting all art regardless of whether it’s crypto art or digital art or traditional pioneers. Investing in crypto currency is different. That’s more of a pure investment. But since I’m a venture capitalist, I really look at the underlying application, the underlying team, online programs and II try to how to connection there and see potential meaning there in the same way that I would see long term potential connection with an artist.
How do you evaluate a NFT art work compared to traditional art?
Traditional art, I think we all generally know how to evaluate it. It’s very kind of practice to evaluate NFT art, I think it’s important to really first and foremost look at the artist. Look at the artist practice, look at what they’ve done in the past 5 years, or are they new? They’re just kind of like drawing something out for the market. For me, I’d like to look at artists that have a history and have a track record and who have been working as an artist for years before they did this. NFT art is just another medium. It’s not a new art form. There’s new things you can do with this medium. But just because it is a NFT, it doesn’t mean it’s art. You have to look at the artists, their practice, education, exhibition experience, gallery representations and why they are relevant to comtemporary art discourse.