By Juliette Yuan. March 15, 2021. New York
On last Friday's Washington Post, Beeple, the crypto artist that I wrote about a few weeks ago, made a big noise with his $69 million sale record at Christie's. While half of the Chinese art world on my WeChat was chatting about Beeple's upcoming exhibition in China, I caught on YouTube a video clip showing a young white boy slowly burning a Banksy print. The event named "Authentic Banksy Art Burning Ceremony (NFT)" happened a week ago. The burned work was an original Banksy monochromatic print titled "Morons," depicting an auction house packed with collectors bidding over a canvas that read:" I can't believe you morons actually buy this shit."
Banksy, Morons. Screenprint. (2006)
"Imagine taking a digital portrait of someone famous - let's say, George Clooney. You embed a code into the meta data of the photo, which proves that you're the photographer and that the photo is one of a kind, and then you sell the digital file to an art collector for $100,000. […] the art collector who bought the digital portrait […] goes out and murders George Clooney hoping that the photo will be worth even more now that he's dead. The crypto art equivalent of that happened last week. An anonymous group of tech bros-cum-speculative-art-collectors burned a Banksy print, which they'd purchased for $95,000, in an attempt to ride the crypto art wave by turning it into an NFT and selling it for what they hope will be more money than the original." Jennifer Rabin commented in "The value of art: Cats, crypto art, and morons," her article for orartswatch.org on March 9.
"Will NFTs revolutionize the art market or repeat its greatest failures? These 4 factors will determine their fate." In his essay published on Artnet News on March 11, Tim Schneider presented an interesting analysis on the differences between the "old art world" and the NFT market. "People and institutions with long histories, fat pockets, and/or pre-existing industry connections wield enormous influence over who gets to participate in a fundamentally hierarchical system. […] Part of what makes established gatekeepers so powerful is the cyclical nature of upper-echelon art collecting." NFT market brings many advantages and opportunities to the artists who don't have the privilege to enter the mainstream world, however, "many, if not most, of the crypto-wealthy tend to look a lot like the traditionally wealthy - again, predominantly white and male. And while they may not care what art-world tastemakers think, their concept of merit is just as much of a feedback loop - this time, fixated on Silicon Valley idolatry and social-media stardom."
To understand digital art properly and what's going on with the NFT market currently, I encourage all collectors interested in NFTs to take seriously the statement of Christiane Paul, a highly respected authority in the digital art field worldwide. (1) "I think many [NFT artworks] will end up being hopelessly overpriced," said Paul in her conversation with VICE magazine a week ago. "What I've seen billed as 'art' in so many of these NFT articles I find a little horrifying. […] Most NFT artworks tend to be digital drawings, animations that play on a loop, or otherwise relatively basic computer-generated renderings. That's not to say they aren't interesting to look at, or even beautiful - certainly, lots of them are. But for the most Part, NFT art is nothing new. […] Digital artists have created interactive sculptures of the entire known universe, videos broken up into thousands of individual, privately held pixels, and augmented reality forests - made up of actual, living trees - that own and manage themselves. I have not seen anything that is absolutely groundbreaking compared to digital art in general," Paul said. "By nature, these do not tend to be super involved pieces. It's not super sophisticated software. It's more like interesting little one-liners."
With all the above said, it seems that Metakovan, the secret buyer of Beeple's NFT, may find better ways of spending his $69 million with Warren Buffet or the family Gates. Or, why not donate them to Johnson & Johnson to make more vaccines to save more people's lives? When it comes to the definition and the value of art, I'd like to borrow Jennifer Robin's final words in her article to end my current reflection: "Anyone who creates or truly appreciates non-digital art knows that there is something ineffable that gets imbued into every physical object an artist makes: the time they spent thinking about it, the effort they put into creating it, the mistakes that you can no longer see, the happy accidents, the piece of their soul that goes out into the world as soon as that piece leaves their studio. A secondary party can't transfer any of those things into binary code, so if we have any care for art or artists, let's choose to live in a world where our loyalty rests with the physical object the artist makes over the NFT that the object was destroyed in order to create." Her words go perfectly with digital art as well.
(1) Christiane Paul is the Adjunct curator of new media arts at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the founder and curator of the Artport portal for Whitney's new media art collection, and a professor of media studies at the New School in New York.