Just over a week ago, the art world was rocked by the highly publicized sale of a NFT (a “non-expendable unit”, a unique digital item) for 57 million euros, the work of a certain Beeple. Since then, analysts have tried to assimilate the news and process what exactly it means for an art scene used to incredible prices and probably forever altered by covid-19. It has been said that from now on it will be much easier theft of works and that the proliferation of NFTs implies the opposite of the democratization of art that they intended to contribute. The dean magazine of the sector, Art Review, has tried to explain why the art world hates NFTsA summary could be that they undermine the power of the intermediaries who decide what is good and what is not. And many have been stuck trying again to understand what the blockchain (or chain of blocks, a registry that serves as collateral for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash or Ethereum, and also, in this case, for NFTs).
In the midst of this scandal, there is also an artist that few knew until March 11 and whose change in status and price has no precedent in the history of art, since up to that date the most that he had received for a of his works (printed) were 100 dollars, about 83 euros. After this sale, he became the third living artist to have sold a piece for more value, after Jeff Koons and David Hockney. For the price of ‘Everydays’: the first 5,000 days, the collage digital auction at Christie’s, you can get something from Jasper Johns or a small Picasso.
Who is it Beeple And why do all the artists that obsess the media in the 21st century – we think of Banksy – have a name like robot vacuum cleaners? What happened to the artists with last names? Actually, Beeple, a 39-year-old graphic designer who lives in uptown North Carolina with his wife and two children, is called Mike Winklemann. Unlike Banksy, whose identity is unknown, Beeple’s face can be seen by anyone who puts his name on it. Google. Another thing will be for him to remember her or to be able to recognize him if he comes across him in the supermarket. “They say I look like Bill Gates,” he admitted this week on the show. Planet Money from NPR, the American public radio. In The Art Newspaper compared him to Mr. Rogers, the character on children’s television played by Tom Hanks in the film An extraordinary friend, a very neat man who always wore chinos, cardigans, shirt and Vans lace-up sneakers. I mean, Winklemann would not exactly be Grayson Perry. “My wife takes care of the kids and I spend a ridiculous amount of time sitting at the computer. We lead a boring life typical of the suburbs, ”he said on the same show, in which he also explained that he got that nickname, Beeple, for an electronic toy from the eighties that looks like an Ewok.
In reality, despite his own attempts to paint himself as a nerd and totally outside the world of celebrity, it cannot be said that he was a total stranger until the day of his historic auction. nifty, as people who want to make it clear that they know a little more than you on this topic are already beginning to call the NFTs. Winklemann has spent years working for stars such as Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and Childish Gambino, generating visual material for their concerts. When Shakira went through a wall of fire last year in the Superbowl intermission, that was Beeple’s doing. He has also received commissions from Apple and Elon Musk’s space agency. Although it is not all that that has attracted two million people to his Instagram account, @beeple_crap (Beeple trash), but their Everydays, the original works that have been posted daily for 13 years. That is, essentially, what it has sold for 57 million euros, a collage that gathers microscopic versions of all those jpg files that have been hanging on their networks (also on your website).
“I would not like anyone to see me in an airport looking at one of my own works on my mobile phone,” said Winklemann, recognizing the disturbing aspect of some of the totems that are repeated in his daily works: the Buzz Lightyear naked and without genitals , the Kim Jong-un with breasts, the Dalinian Pikachu or the gym-addicted Winnie the Pooh. In reality, his level of provocation falls well short of a Paul McCarthy or Maurizio Cattelan, and his criticism of the system is quite acceptable – Trump astride the Capitol, medieval clerks building an emoji, someone practicing a cunnilingus to a turkey at Thanksgiving. It has been said of him that he is like a satirical cartoonist for the digital age.
Beeple hung all these works, his Everydays, to continue with the challenge that he set for himself, but probably also with the intention of shaping his personal brand so that it would generate more work and better paid in his business. However, last October someone told you about NFTs, essentially the way to make sure that a digital file is non-interchangeable, that it has its own identity and the possibility of authentication. “When I finally looked at what they were, I thought, ‘What the heck, this is awesome.’ I went crazy trying to understand everything. I spoke with collectors, with the CEOs of these platforms, with the artists in this space, with anyone who could help me understand what was happening ”, he explains in The Art Newspaper. Finally, in December, he put 21 nifties –Sold for drops, how Supreme-type brands release their clothes, in limited series that are put on sale on a specific day, to encourage collecting – at the symbolic price of one dollar each. Those who bought them immediately started reselling them. In one week, they were worth half a million dollars on the secondary market, a portion of which went straight into Winklemann’s pocket. This is one of the main differences between NFTs and physical works, and that is that with the former, every time they change hands, a part of the money goes to the artist, unlike in the traditional art market.
That sale gave Beeple the first notion of his own power and also his first brush with fame. One of his potential buyers was Sean Lennon. What happened caught the attention of Noah Davis, a specialist in contemporary art at Christie’s, who asked him for a piece to auction. The first thing he offered him was a self-portrait of him as a child in which several of his most recognizable icons appeared behind, including Super Mario, Michel Jackson, Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear. Davis replied, “Great, your brain is terrifying, but our traditional shopper is not going to come close to this,” and that’s when Winklemann came up with the idea for the digital mosaic. The young specialist at Christie’s who had convinced his bosses to try their luck with this strange thing from the nifties he must have had a great day at work. In ten minutes he saw the bid rise from $ 100 to a million and shortly after that historic sale was completed.
The two buyers are now known to be two entrepreneurs and activists from the cryptocurrency world named Vignesh Sundaresan, aka. Metakovan, and Anand Venkateswaran, alias Twobadour. They are both Indian but operate from Singapore. Last Thursday they issued a statement explaining that what they intended with this was to make an anti-racist statement. “Our goal was to show Indians and people of color that they too can be the owners, that cryptocurrency has an equalizing effect between the West and the rest of the world, and that the global South is on the rise.” The claim came after several journalists noticed precisely some problematic elements in Bleeper’s work. Some of the pieces that make up the Everydays mosaic are titled things like It’s fun to draw black people! The Chinese fat nerdy boy and his imaginary friends. Ventakeswaran and Sundaresan insist, however, on presenting their purchase as a proofreader for an art world that they see predominantly white: “Imagine an investor, a financier, a patron of the arts. Ten times out of nine, the palette is monochrome. By winning the Beeple auction we added a little mahogany to that color scheme. “
In interviews over the past few days, Winklemann is unsurprisingly delighted with his newfound fame. In The Art Newspaper said: “Beeple is here to stay. I’m a motherfucker from the art world. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.