A New Digital Art Marketplace for a New Form of Art Patronage

Brooke Einbender, Art and Content Manager, Look Lateral

Look Lateral’s development of Fimart — an ultra-secure blockchain platform that supports the trading of tokenized fractions of individual art assets — establishes a new means of democratizing and creating liquidity in art. Blockchain technology innovation has enabled the fractionalization of fine art for the first time. Art tokenization revolutionizes the way in which people collect, sell, and support art. The fractionalization of artwork opens the door not only to a new way to invest in art, but a new form of art patronage.

FIMART provides a solution that directly and elegantly addresses the deaccession problem for museums and public entities.

To see that the future is now, please read on…

Marc Chagall, “The Eiffel Tower” (1929) — deaccessioned from the National Gallery of Canada collection

In the art world, past history dictates that controversy arises when public entities deaccession art — that is to officially remove an item from a library, museum, or gallery’s collection in order to raise funds. The potential for conflict is obvious. Public institutions and museums have an intrinsic duty to uphold and showcase works of art for the public to experience. Once artworks are deaccessioned and sold at auction, there’s a high probability that the artwork will be acquired into the private domain rather than readily displayed, seen and enjoyed in a public “container” such as a museum or library.

That work of art will no longer be publicly accessible, unless on loan for a short-lived exhibition.

Frustratingly, once sold at auction, the result is that a piece of art history, an artifact accessible to all, an artwork containing valuable cultural significance disappears from public view. Although typically seen as a last resort for public institutions and museums, such action can be a quick “fix” for them to raise a large sum of money in a short period of time.

Kerry James Marshall, “Knowledge and Wonder” (1995)

To this last point, earlier this fall, in order to raise funds, the city of Chicago announced it would be selling the Chicago Public Library‘s beloved Kerry James Marshall painting Knowledge and Wonder at Christie’s auction in November. The proceeds would go to improve the Legler Library branch — located in the the city’s underprivileged West Side area, where African Americans make up 44 percent of the community. The artist was commissioned to create the site-specific canvas for $10,000 in 1995.

The mural was expected to sell at auction for between $10 to $15 million. And therein lies a huge point of contention between artist and benefactor.

The 10-by-23-foot painting depicts African American boys and girls gazing up at larger-than-life books presented before them, some point to a planet floating on the cover of The Book of Knowledge while others investigate molecules and compounds suspended in space.

Kerry James Marshall, “Knowledge and Wonder” (1995) — Detail

Painted books, constellations, and biology conjure feelings of exploration, discovery, and growth. Some elements within the painting appear to be blank or unfinished, perhaps to inspire the African American youth to pursue the path of knowledge, filling these empty pages with curiosities.

Public-arts supporters, curators, and art critics across the country criticized Mayor Emanuel’s decision to sell the artwork; even Marshall himself felt “exploited” by the city for “short-term gain.”

Since the Mayor couldn’t satisfy all parties, he mutually agreed with Marshall to pull the artwork from auction and return it to its home at the Legler branch. He said, “I own the decision to try and create equity for the West Side. I own the idea of trying to find an elegant solution. And I own pulling it back when it doesn’t work for everybody.”

Instead of having a $10 million budget for expansion and renovation, the Legler Library branch will work to improve its services at a fraction of the initial budget for $1.8 million.

James Rondeau, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, recognized the fact that “market pressures are powerful” — Marshall has become the highest-paid African American artist; his painting Past Times sold at auction for a record-breaking $21.1 million to celebrity Sean Combs; and, yes, there is an extremely long waiting list to acquire Marshall’s work.

Kerry James Marshal, “Past Times” (1997)


What about preserving this cultural artifact for future generations – dedicated to African American youth as a symbol of inspiration and power — rather than relinquishing it for a quick monetary fix?

There was no simple solution to satisfy all stakeholders. Rondeau applauds the mayor’s decision which shifts the focus back to “the object, the artist, the context and the audience.”

What if there was a new, alternative solution for which all stakeholders could be content with the outcome?

Look Lateral’s digital art marketplace, Fimart, would have helped the library maintain ownership of the painting; continue to display it publicly; and raise enough funds to fully expand its services and facilities…

Using the Chicago Public Library’s situation as an example, as the owner of a work of art, they’d have the new ability to fractionalize any piece of artwork into shares on Fimart. The owner (Chicago Public Library) may retain 51% of the artwork (maintaining physical possession of the work), while the remaining 49% is sold to art token investors.

Now works of art can attract capital from different markets, such as cryptocurrencies and funds to name but a few, thus transforming art into a liquid asset.
Look Lateral’s Fimart — Demo version (2018)

If the city of Chicago sold fractional shares of Knowledge and Wonder, they’d be able to access buyers from around the world, who in return not only become partial owners of the artwork, but patrons upholding the public integrity of the work and supporting its potential future price appreciation. Most importantly, the Library receives liquidity in a major work of art while still maintaining physical ownership.

By listing Knowledge and Wonder on Fimart, the Legler Library branch would be able to raise a significant amount of sorely needed funds directly benefiting the library itself and the community and patrons it serves.


Kerry James Marshall in his studio


Deb, Sopan. “Chicago Pulls Kerry James Marshall Painting From Auction Following Criticism.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Nov. 2018

Farago, Jason. “Kerry James Marshall Paints for Chicago. His Mural Should Stay There.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Oct. 2018

Johnson, Steve. “Chicago Reverses Course on Planned Auction of Kerry James Marshall Painting.” Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune, 5 Nov. 2018