ARTWOOK x UNFOLD Art Xchange Summit: A Global Banquet of “Art + Fintech” Under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness
Mar 19, 2019

From March 7 to March 9 2019, the second UNFOLD Art XChange Summit was held in Bahrain at ArtBAB 2019, offering a banquet of “Art + FinTech” for global leaders in art, technology and finance. As one of the participants, ARTWOOK was entitled the privilege to communicate with over 40 specialists in the fields of culture, fintech, blockchain, AI and VR from more than 20 countries. The three-day summit largely facilitated the sharing of knowledge and enhanced the future opportunities for cross-border cooperation through a series of panel discussions, interviews and debates.


The summit was held under the patronage of Her Royal Highness, Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the President of the Supreme Council for Women and sponsored by Tamkeen, with the support of Bahrain Fintech Bay and Deloitte’s Islamic Financial Knowledge Center (IFKC). In collaboration with ArtBAB, it brought together many experts to unfold a cutting-edge discussion over art, culture and business, enabling the integration of dynamic cultures in the global art space through a number of in-depth conversations.


ArtBAB is an international art fair beyond the Kingdom of Bahrain and the global art market. “We are proud of the unique conversations that we have started about Bahrain art around the world. In 2018 alone, Artists Across Borders, a program supported by us, has successfully introduced 25 Bahrain artists to Paris, Moscow, Singapore and Britain,” noted by Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, also the director of the office of HRH. She then added that, “in the 2019 edition of the fair, we shall explore not just the heritage and legacies that inspire Bahrain contemporary art, but also the new directions of art on the global stage.”

Her Royal Highness, Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the President of the Supreme Council for Women


Meanwhile, the summit featured lots of highlights, including a world premiere on art and Islamic finance, discussions around blockchain, big data and analytics, the fantastic chemical reaction between art, AI and virtual reality. Blockchain aroused the attention and discussion among participants from multiple fields, as its technological attributes provide solutions to art work provenance, copyright and ownership issues and higher transaction transparency. 


Blockchain & Art Market

On March 8, Khalid Saad, the CEO of Bahrain FinTech Bay hosted the session of “Blockchain Art Provenance”. He stated that “blockchain enables a detailed record of each transaction of the ownership of artworks. It also makes the idea of crowdfunding possible. With blockchain, it is possible for a group of people to purchase one artwork collectively.”

Bahrain FinTech Bay CEO, Khalid Saad


During the session, Khalid elaborated the advantages of blockchain technology. He first mentioned that blockchain can be used to solve the problems of provenance, copyrights and ownership issues and to improve transaction transparency, thus completely revolutionizing the art industry. He then continued to say that, as an open source software, blockchain allows every person to create and save information based on it without the intervention of any third party, therefore reducing the behavior of reselling in the art market; in the end, he stated that blockchain could benefit the transaction confirmation speed of artworks as it provides real-time access to provenance documents across the world. 


The Blockchain Art Market Revolution


The same day also saw a round table discussion dubbed “The Blockchain Art Market Revolution”. Participants include Nanne Deking – founder & CEO of Artory, Robert Norton – founder & CEO of Verisart, Nikolaos Kipouros – founder & CEO of 4ARTechnologies, Paul Lindahl – founder & CEO of Arius Technology, Dirk Boll – president of Christie’s in Europe, Middle East, Russia and India, and Rui Cai – CEO of ARTWOOK. The attendees exchanged their opinion and advices on the implementation of blockchain technology in the art market and its revolutionary effects. It is every one’s common aspiration to keep exploring the realm of blockchain in collaboration with like-minded friends.


During the discussion over blockchain’s application in the art market, Rui Cai first noted that today, with diversified investment options available, art investment is apparently superior to other investment portfolios. First of all, at the current stage, the art market shows considerable returns on investment. From 2000 to 2017, the global market has witnessed an increase of 360% in the trading volume of the pieces of the top 100 Western artists, with an annual rate of return of 8.9%. According to the statistics from the Art Market Monitor of Artron China, China’s contemporary art market has seen a growth of 1631%, with an annual rate of 17.85%. What’s more, fine art also shows higher risk capacity. By analyzing the data of U.S. art market from 1957 to 2007, it was proved that high-end artworks overshadowed the mid-range ones in investment return as well as value fluctuation, stated by a writer with a top American academic journal.



Secondly, Ray Cai presented his opinion on crowdfunding for arts. He noted that crowdfunding is a practice derived from the development of internet-powered e-commerce which has now become one of the main shopping channels for people. In addition, the prosperity of social media also propelled the transition of promotional model from the traditional centralized channels to distributed channels based on the social networks, which is compatible with the decentralized nature of blockchain. Besides, the rise of sharing economy further improved the feasibility of crowdfunding, which enables idle labor and assets to regain value and even investment returns. In recent years, with the boom of crowdfunding and P2P, the authorities also started to modify or even create relevant laws to support the public to invest on private companies, a behavior which was only possible for accredited investors before. All this makes blockchain technology the natural option to facilitate online crowdfunding for arts.


Ray Cai in Conversation with Other Speakers


Robert Norton, founder & CEO of Verisart introduced his own platform Verisart. Verisart is a platform that verifies and certifies artworks by using blockchain technology, which can effectively prevent fraudulent activities in the art market. The platform has received supports from many top artists across the world, including Yoko Ono, Jenny Holzer and etc.

Verisart Founder & CEO, Robert Norton


Nanne Deking, founder and CEO of Artory, also commented on blockchain’s application in the art market. Nanne first introduced that the primary role of Artory was to use blockchain to track provenance for arts, improve the transparency for art trading, and resolve the copyright and ownership issues in the industry. He then mentioned that Artory has partnered with Christie’s for the blockchain-based registry of artworks and collectibles in the auction, with the purpose of improving security. During the session, Ray Cai and Nanne Deking communicated with each other in depth and shared many common views on blockchain’s application in the art market, especially in provenance for arts, looking ahead to more cooperation in the future.

Artory Founder & CEO, Nanne Deking


ARTWOOK x Elena Zavalev – Contributing Writer with Forbes


Elena Zavalev is a contributing writer with Forbes, founder and CEO of New Art Academy – a world-leading authority in art and technology, blockchain and AI. Elena is also a collector of crypto and digital art and is keen on discovering and supporting new media artists. In this conversation on China’s blockchain-powered art market, Qinwen Wang shared her insights as well as blockchain’s application in the art industry.

Contributing Writer with Forbes, Elena Zavalev


During the summit, Qinwen Wang, chief art & technology officer of ARTWOOK also had a multi-dimensional conversation with Elena Zavalev on blockchain and art market. They discussed on the potential of blockchain technology-powered, fractionalized ownership investment model for the China art market and how it can improve the efficiency and transparency of art trading, addressing the challenges for hundreds of millions of middle-class Chinese to find an alternative way to invest their fast-growing wealth.



Qinwen Wang in Conversation with Elena Zavalev


Discussion on the Cultural Value of the Art World


On March 7, the summit opened with the topic of arts patronage and arts philanthropy, in order to facilitate the development of Arabian culture as well as the development of cultural and educational district with the rise of creative economy. The two sessions are hosted by Arab Fund for Arts & Culture (AFAC) and Global Cultural District Network (GCDN), and are composed of a number of speakers from Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Kuwait National Cultural District, National Museum of Singapore, Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, A.M. Qattan Foundation, the Kamel Lazaar Foundation and etc.


The cultural value of the art world lies no just plainly in the cultural activities, but also in its impact on education and economy. The session highlighted the philanthropic foundations in the MENA region. The A.M. Qattan Foundation is an independent NGO working in the field of culture and education with a special focus on children, teachers and young artists. It was founded in 1993 and has carried out a series of projects, including a library specializing in education, culture and social science, an experimental classroom, a theatre, a cinema and etc. The vision of the foundation is to empower free individuals through a long-term participatory spirit.


In addition to arts patronage and arts philanthropy, the second half of the session focused on the idea of cultural and educational district, which was hosted by Adrian Ellis. Before the conversation, Adrian noted that “with the rise of creative economy in cities and countries worldwide, cultural art has demonstrated a positive impact on the development of regional economy. In the last 30 years, the prosperity of new museums and cultural spaces across the world has generated a revolutionary power in the urban area. Apart from the purpose of cultural education, these spaces are also propelling the regeneration as well as gentrification of urban area.” A number of well-known cultural and educational districts were introduced during the session, including West Kowloon Cultural District, the National Museum of Singapore, Hugh Lane gallery and etc.

Founder of AEA Consulting and the Global Cultural Districts Network, Adrian Ellis


Insight into the Art Market from A Technological Perspective


The development of big data analysis, AI and virtual reality has brought enormous changes to the art world, enabling us appreciate the arts from different perspectives. But all this also inevitably comes with some problems.


At the beginning of the session on March 8. Adriano Picinati Di Torcello pointed out that big data has now become the hot issue in many industries. Recently, it also provides new opportunities for analyzing art market data and understanding the trends in the market.

Deloitte Art & Finance Director, Adriano Picinati Di Torcello


Christine Bourron, founder and CEO of Pi-eX attended that day’s meeting and introduced Pi-eX. It is a London-based financial broker-dealer providing art market analysis and financial instruments based on artworks, in order to identify the trends of art market and perform risk management. Pi-eX seeks to provide valuable market information for those interested in better understanding the liquidity, performance and volatility of the art market by making use of its sales records database.

Pi-eX Founder & CEO, Christine Bourron


The discussion on March 9 was mainly about AI and virtual reality’s influence on the art market. The session was hosted by Jason Bailey, founder of Artnome. He noted that Google was the first to integrate AI with art creation. In 2015, Google launched “Deep Dream” – an algorithm that visualizes data representations of neural networks, and creates tools for image-to-image translation. Since then, a large number of artists have been using AI technology to create arts, which well demonstrated the creativity of visual arts.

Artnome Founder, Jason Bailey


However, achievements often come with problems. The copyrights of arts generated by AI has always been a hot issue.


Last year, the Potrait of Edmund de Belamy – the first AI-generated artwork – was sold at the price of $432,500 at Christie’s. The painting is somewhat similar to the works of Robbie Barrat, which caused an uproar in the art market. The unresolved issue of the author and owner of this work aroused intense interest in the public. It seems that there is still a long way to go to solve the copyright issue of AI-generated artworks.

The Portrait of Edmund de Belamy – the first AI-generated artwork


Kevin Joyce, CEO and chief editor of VRFocus, gave a speech on virtual reality during the session, noting that the rapidly-advanced VR technology has completely changed the art world. Today, museums are turning to VR technologies with the purpose of creating more dynamic and interesting expositions, and a more interactive environment, in order to propel art education and attract more audience, especially the young generation who are more interested in social interaction. 

VRFocus CEO and Chief Editor, Kevin Joyce


ARTWOOK x Bahrain FinTech Bay CEO Khalid Saad


Bahrain FinTech Bay is the largest fintech hub in the Middle East. As the CEO of the institution, Khalid Saad has been cooperating with financial institutions and associations, central banks, governmental departments, fintech hubs, layers and other institutions to facilitate the development of FinTech ecosystem. Previously, he was dedicated to the financial service sector of the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB). The EDB is a dynamic public agency that is responsible for attracting foreign investment into Bahrain, improving the domestic investment environment for further economic growth. He was commited to Bahrain's financial services industry and worked hard to attract new investments into the field. Success cases include expanding existing companies and attracting new companies such as banks, asset and wealth management agencies, insurance companies, ancillary service providers and financial technology companies.


Khalid Saad holds a very optimistic view towards blockchain technology as a solution to the pain points of the art market. As a blockchain-based art trading platform, ARTWOOK seeks to accelerate the “financialization” of artworks by using blockchain. In the conversation, ARTWOOK also shared with Khalid Saad that as a shared ownership trading platform with liquidity and exit channels, ARTWOOK not just turns artworks into liquid assets, but also reduces the investment threshold for fine art. When talking about the integration of blockchain into the art market, ARTWOOK believes that in its updated crypto-based business solution, blockchain can provide an intelligent business solution for artwork management, transaction flow and fine art wealth management in the digital era. The traceability of blockchain and the real K.Y.C-compliant account management also reduce the investment threshold and improve the security for art investment enthusiasts. “This is how the evolution of technology changes the way people get access to fine arts. This is what ARTWOOK wants to do and what we are exactly working with.”


ARTWOOK x Bahrain FinTech Bay CEO Khalid Saad


This summit is the first “Art + FinTech” summit launched in the global art market. A number of speakers are gathered together through a series of panel discussions, interviews and debates within 3 days. They communicated with each other profoundly to achieve further knowledge sharing and future cooperation. It is also ARTWOOK’s vision to work together with our friends worldwide from the art and technology industry to witness a new episode in the art market under the wave of technology evolution.