NFTs in the age of precarity
A.K.A. “Deaccessioning”: A few weeks back, I was at a dinner with a few photography historians when the subject of NFTs (or, nonfungible tokens) arose like a phoenix from the ashes of art history. “NFTs are nothing more than image reproductions, which are nothing new!” one pal asserted while at the other end of the table I heard someone else mutter the word “Benjamin” as if it were a blunt object instead of a person. It turns out that struggling museums — a scant dozen or so in Europe — are attempting to generate income by selling NFTs of works in their collection. The wildest example cited in this recent New York Times piece on the subject is the Belvedere museum in Vienna, which fractionalized a digitized image of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” into 10,000 NFTs, which dropped on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, priced at 0.65 Ethereum, or €1,850, each. The sale has generated roughly €4.3 million. “Who even does this,” you say? Institutions that are clearly tech-positive and perhaps also financially desperate enough to wade into the PR disaster that is engaging with an art form — are NFTs are an art form? — that has such dire environmental implications. (Read this Wired explainer from 2001 for more on NFTs’ eco-impact.)
Alexa! What is Ethereum?: Writing for the latest issue of N+1, Sarah Resnick has produced what is, by far, the most nuanced, comprehensive expository writing on the culture of crypto that I’ve encountered. I really can’t get over this piece, including it’s title: “Walk Away Like a Boss: postcard from the cryptosphere.”
Money Dies, Crypto Lives: Does anyone remember artist Paul Chan’s cryptocurrency teach-in, What is Crypto?, at the Whitney Museum back in 2018? Paul handed out an extraordinary clever little pamphlet on the subject that still hangs on my refrigerator, and the writing inside of it, while brief, was light-years ahead of its time in identifying the potential implications of cryptocurrency for artists and other producers. We’re now starting to see tech start-ups engage blockchain to grapple with the age-old problem of securing royalties for artists’ work — the New York Times recently profiled Fairchain, one such company. A while back, I also mentioned Artwrld, a commissioning and presenting NFT platform.
What’s the Point of Digital Fashion?: Writing for Vox, Terry Nguyen (skeptically) assesses the growing trend of digital fashion, a subculture that includes a wide array of activities from the “the digital design and modeling of real-world clothing, the uploading of designs for real and digital clothing onto the blockchain (so these files can be sold as NFTs), and even digital clothes rendered onto real people.” Nguyen observes: “Fashion has always been in the business of selling fantasies. Is this particular one, though, just another distraction from the wider fashion industry’s very real problems?” I, for one, am thinking about the very-real ecological impacts of the fashion industry which, now that I think about it, aren’t so very different from those of cryptocurrency.
Unrelated: As a young Gen-Xer who strove to skirt her Catholic school dress code at any opportunity, I adored this long read by the Guardian’s Eliza Brooke on the rise and (steep) fall of the Gap brand. Can Ye save the Gap? All I know is that this stuff would have earned me some hard penance!