The Paper It’s Printed On: NFTs, Ownership and Conceptual Art

19 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2022

Date Written: December 30, 2021


Lawrence Weiner couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to die. On December 2, 2021, amid the hustle and throb of Art Basel Miami Beach’s first post-pandemic iteration, conceptual art’s founding father and the man who did most to dematerialize the art object passed the torch to an infant upstart—the NFT. Weiner was not-so-quietly displaced, as promoters of Tezos (a proof-of-stake blockchain and official partner of ABMB) were busy “Building a Global NFT Movement” and crypto bros were throwing and crashing the biggest parties.

Maybe Weiner saw it coming. Only a few months earlier, the auction house Christie’s sold its first “purely digital work through an NFT” for $69 million. The sale not only ignited the market for digital art, but also reignited debates about the meaning of ownership that Weiner help start in the 1960s.

In this article, I’ll spend most of my time explaining what NFTs are and what it means to own one. I’ll also discuss why that meaning of ownership—which may appear novel to many—isn’t new at all when considered against the backdrop of the market for conceptual art. I’ll conclude with some observations about how NFTs may be good and bad for the art industry.

Keywords: NFT, NFTs, Conceptual Art, Art, Contemporary Art, Art Market, Law, Copyright

JEL Classification: K11, K12, K39, Z11

Suggested Citation

Steiner, Alfred/Dave, The Paper It’s Printed On: NFTs, Ownership and Conceptual Art (December 30, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Alfred/Dave Steiner (Contact Author)

Meister & Steiner ( email )

United States

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