ZHEN. is on a Mission to Change the Experience of Art Ownership

The rarefied world of art collecting is notorious for being exclusionary and fraught with issues. ZHEN., a new company founded by creative entrepreneurs, wants to change that.

When a new company focused on the buying and selling of art promises a “radically different ownership experience” it’s best to take it with a grain of salt. In the case of ZHEN. that may just be true. No salt required.

ZHEN., based in Hong Kong with a team in Europe and outposts in LA and New York, is a collective of business-minded creatives that realized the experience of owning original artwork from well-known artists is riddled with issues that turn away all but the most devoted collectors. “The proliferation of fake goods is just so high and the quality of them so good, that for the consumer it can be challenging and prohibitive (price-wise) to isolate the legitimate pieces,” says NIK Schulte, ZHEN.’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer.

While many companies have aimed to level the playing field between artist and collector, democratizing the ownership experience with reasonably priced prints and editions shipped with letters of authenticity, none have managed to create a system as transparent and secure as ZHEN.’s.

The idea is straightforward: embed artworks with NFC (Near-Field Communication) chips built upon blockchain technology (Ethereum ERC-721) to power a proprietary verification system that creates value at every level. “With radical transparency regarding ownership and provenance, as well as the promise of authenticity of the artwork itself, ZHEN. benefits everyone in the art ecosystem.”

Galleries and auction houses no longer have to hire experts to validate the authenticity of collectibles. Artists can offer their pieces to an increasingly trusting and devoted market. Collectors can validate, authenticate, and review the provenance of every piece with one tap from the ZHEN. app.

The entire process and the concept driving it is best understood through the first collectible launched by ZHEN. As NANZUKA’s official technology partner, ZHEN. collaborated with the Tokyo gallery to release the Sexy Robot Floating collectible, a sculpture designed by renowned Japanese artist Hajime Sorayama and authenticated by ZHEN.

Available by lottery in an edition of 1,000 at a price of ¥165,000 JPY (approx. $1,565 USD), Sexy Robot Floating gives collectors the confidence to purchase, knowing their buying an authentic piece from a reputable gallery, backed by a company whose entire purpose is to provide a secure art ownership experience.

As the first artist and gallery to feature ZHEN.’s technology, the success and enthusiasm all around showed the team they were onto something special. “They immediately understood the vision and what exactly we were trying to solve. To work with two visionaries — an artist who is so deeply committed to the cause, and a gallery who truly understands their artists and their consumers — has really been the dream for us.”

In the case of Sexy Robot Floating, the purchase of each artwork was subject to a three-year resale ban, a notable departure from the “flipping” model that has come to define the once-rarefied world of sneakers.

The company says these limitations will vary from piece to piece so it’s designed a system to accommodate the nature of collectibles. “Some people buy collectibles with the intention of turning them around for profit on the secondary market and we’ve built some features in anticipation of that. For example, we have ‘ownership transfer’ capabilities built into the platform, where people can transfer their digital ownership in addition to the physical object itself.”

Before NANZUKA Underground even had the chance to contact winners of the Sexy Robot Floating lottery, ZHEN. unveiled the second artwork to come equipped with their blockchain-powered security chips: the FREE HYDRANT CO designed by Haroshi and published by NANZUKA Underground.

The second piece featuring ZHEN.’s technology has also provided the context needed for a feature currently in development: ZHEN. Cabinet. A sort of digital portfolio that lets owners track the value of pieces in real time, ZHEN. Cabinet will give owners the ability to see their purchases as both collectibles and investments. Another bullet point on the radically different ownership experience checklist.

Like most companies that go on to shake up an industry, ZHEN.’s story is still being written. Upcoming features include augmented reality, kickstarting the ownership experience before it even begins. Collectors will be able to preview how a piece looks in their home before committing to a purchase, bringing the object from the physical world into the digital. 

Should they decide to move forward with a purchase, ZHEN. has an idea for making that experience novel, too. “The embedded NFC chip, upon scanning via our app, could be the key to unlocking future exclusive experiences. We’d be able to activate new experiences throughout the lifespan of each piece.”

On a much wider scale, the security and simplicity of ZHEN.’s technology has the potential to disrupt industries across the board. “We can imagine this on the hangtags of luxury clothes, embedded in the sole of your next sneaker, perhaps even attached to a hand-crafted violin. Blockchain authentication in this specific application is only just beginning.”

For now, ZHEN. is aiming to establish itself as the world’s most secure art ownership verification system. Working with some of the world’s most celebrated artists seems like a good place to start.