Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
As any fule kno, good provenance is vital when it comes to making sensible, ethical purchases of art. All the same, Rakewell is baffled that anyone could be so obsessed with it as to spend $69.3m on a piece of provenance alone – which is what the buyer of Everydays: The First 5000 Days, a digital collage of images by an artist known as Beeple, has just done. (For that sort of money, they could probably have saved the V&A from tearing itself to pieces.)
Your correspondent in no ways doubts the creative integrity of Mr Beeple as an artist – we congratulate him on his success, in fact. Rakewell is baffled, however, that someone has decided to splash so much cash on an artwork that doesn’t really exist, or at least not in the way that a painting or a sculpture does. What the lucky spendthrift has bought, in fact, is more like the infrastructure of ownership: the digital certification, or non-fungible-token (NFT), that gives them title over a digital image that is otherwise infinitely replicable.
The scent of tulipomania is in the air, Rakewell thinks – of that madcap speculative bubble that saw the price of certain tulip bulbs rocket in the Dutch Republic in the 1630s, as the sums of money exchanged for them accelerated away from their established value. The collector Kenny Schachter even published a photograph of himself eating tulips in the run up to the Beeple sale. Well, you can’t chow down on blockchain.
Christie’s looks set to continue flogging Jpegs. It’s easy money, after all, and why bother with the hassle of physical objects, with their pesky condition reports and demands for display space? Perhaps the auction house knew what was coming when it dumped all those object specialists back in 2017. Rakewell hopes for Christie’s sake that the Gifs keep on giving.