The first was called “Crossroad,” a book that would change depending on the outcome of the Biden vs. Trump election, the results of which were expected after the sale. Then, “Politics Is Bullshit”, an NFT showing a bull defecating (you understand?) The third track was called “Crypto Is Bullshit”. The latter work was also a digital animation – moving rather than static – this time showing an overweight naked white man seated astride a golden bull, while around him a landscape, patrolled by militants armed with machine guns, burns. So far, so WTAF.
“It was like a real experience,” says Winkelmann. “The one from Trump / Biden struck me as very interesting – the fact that the buyer wouldn’t know the condition of the artwork before buying it. It took me a second to wrap my own get around that, but the auction did happen and, hey, it worked. “
Ah, it worked. Beeple’s Biden / Trump NFT sold for $ 66,666.66. Not bad for his first “NFT” drop. (In February, it was resold on the aftermarket for $ 6.6 million. Digital art buyers have a soft spot for remarkable numbers and prices, another indication of the current gamification of the investment, which either through sharing apps, cryptocurrencies or NFTs.)
This early success got Winkelmann thinking about how he might respond to a problem that is at the very heart of NFT. thing: “December has arrived and we have decided to make another drop, but this time with a little difference”, explains the artist, stretching an arm back towards a big pile of boxes piled high behind him. The boxes, all white, seem to be able to comfortably hold two pairs of Air Jordans.
“I understand people’s disbelief that this work of art is not a physical thing. I don’t agree with that, but I understand. You cannot touch it, per se. So after the initial fall I saw all these people moaning and saying, “What is this? Why would I buy something that I can just have on Instagram? ‘ So I decided to add something physical to it for these people to cross the line. You know those people who can’t take the mental leap when it comes to NFTs yet.
He’s right, some people just can’t grasp him. The “it”, of course, goes right to the heart of what makes this art so precious. What is the value, for example, of a work of art if you cannot touch it, hold it, walk around it? For his second “drop,” in December 2020, Winkelmann gave these NFT skeptics something they could actually hold with both hands – a frame.
He calls those extras “physics,” and the frames look like those clear block-style plexiglass photo holders you can scavenge in Snappy Snaps – you know, the kind of thing successful YouTubers put on super-rare Pokémon cards. Winkelmann, however, comes with added visual fireworks. Each of these ‘physical’ costs around £ 350 to produce and has a QR code on the front that directs the buyer to a website listing the provenance of the artwork – a tally of all previous owners up to nowadays.
“Nobody does these physical exams,” he tells me, unwrapping the latest version of these special Beeple “frames” as we continue to talk, “so this is a polished aluminum base powered by USB-C. with polished aluminum exterior detailing and custom programmed LED lights. As he opens the lid of the white box, the ‘physics’ mounted inside flashes like a pinball machine in a dive bar.