In this column, Santanu Borah takes us to the future of the art world and talks about Mike Winklemann, more popularly known as Beeple, who sold his NFT for millions. Read on to know why we think NFTs are going to rule 2022!
As we say goodbye to the old year, most of us cannot help but remember the pandemic yet again and the ensuing rush for vaccines. Varied discussions around the vaccine and the disease itself spawned many stories, including a wide range of conspiracy theories.
In the world of art, while some shows came back to public spaces and, even, intimate galleries, the mood wasn’t always upbeat. Personally, online art shows did not catch my fancy, and I too suffered from “Zoom fatigue” during remote discussions on art. I am more traditional minded in that sense. I love art shows that I can experience first-hand and see a speaker in the flesh.
However, it is undeniable that the pandemic has changed the way we consume art. Online viewing rooms are here to stay and the technology that drives it will only get more and more “real” as we step into the new year.
For me, the biggest event of 2021 in the art world was a jpeg file selling for 69 million dollars in the form of a non-fungible token or NFT. While this has been coming for a while now, this year told us that we can own art in a digital format and the “physicalness” of a work was not the holy grail, so to speak, of an object of art. Clearly, NFTs was the buzzword of the year in the world of art. Other digital properties like original memes also went for thousands of dollars. In fact, with NFTs the idea of “original work” reached a different stratosphere – if you have something original, it can be money. It could be something of interest or have the ability to generate interest later or, oddly enough, not of much interest or something that resides on the fringe for an exceptionally tiny audience. Everything can become valuable.
While this sounds like the arrival of a brave new world, it could also make the culture of clutter obsessive. Poor, unthought pieces of pixels might masquerade as NFTs and, worse, as art. And that is why I liked Beeple’s idea and the extensive process that went into it.
Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelman, Everydays: the First 5000 Days is collage of 5,000 digital images and is among the most expensive works by a living artist. And it was bought by an Indian IT professional called Vignesh Sundaresan, a cryptocurrency investor, who paid for the work with Ether. Everything about this event was virtual. And an Indian IT pro buying it sounded like poetic justice to me.
The effort behind this seemingly simple work goes back to 2007 – that’s 14 years back. Beeple took 13 years to put the ‘finis’ on the work. So, effectively, it took him 14 years to make 69 million dollars. Not bad at all, but still a very long process from an art-making point of view. This work is sure to stand as one of the defining moments/ masterpieces in the world of “non-physical” art. Or it might even get lost in the haze of history if the crypto bubble were to ever burst or change into something else. Well, that’s for the future to decide.
Beeple’s aesthetic is grounded in comic book illustration. He is the next generation pop artist. The 5,000 images were carefully curated and made, and every image signifies something that affects our society, culture and history today. The pictures are in chronological order, and not all the images are computer-produced. Some of the images are hand-drawn.
If you zoom into the individual pictures, you see a sharp satirist at work who is often political. The subject matter is dark, funny, dystopian and, many might say, not suitable for children or people with strong opinions and faint hearts. You can tell that Beeple’s mind is a weird and sharp place. That is why Everydays is not your everyday piece of art.
To conclude, with technology moving at shocking rates and affecting every sphere of art, you cannot be sure where the next big bang in art is coming from. But for now, at least 2022, NFTs are here to stay.