One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most this year is the time to test and experiment with cutting-edge tech and apps. It’s not only a personal passion, but I’ve also been fortunate enough that my career has centered around building next-generation technology. With that in mind, I’m excited to introduce the first CoS Sprint - a six-week series focused on emerging tech and my unique purview into the new and innovative. I hope you enjoy it!
Hi All -
There’s a new phenomenon taking over the world of collectibles and art - meet NFTs or non-fungible tokens. I’ve touched on crypto in the previous issues, but non-fungible tokens are entirely different because they represent ownership as opposed to value.
Unlike bitcoin which is a form of money, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are digital assets that represent a wide range of unique tangible and intangible items. Everything that’s viewed as “one-of-a-kind” has the potential to be turned into an NFT whether it’s trading cards, sneakers, sports memorabilia. It also creates a mechanism for creators of digital work, whether that’s music, images, memes - even Donald Trump's infamous tweets, to establish provenance and earn money.
While early NFTs started with cryptokitties it’s not the crypto fanatics that we can thank for this frenzy - it’s Christie’s. Back in March, they were the first to auction off a body of digital work by artist Beeple (Mike Winkelmann) called “Everydays - The First 5000 Days.” It sold for a record $69 million, making Beeple the third most valuable living artist after Hockney and Koons. This clearly triggered an inflection point, because where there’s excessive money… well there’s mania.
Now I’m from the Beanie Baby era and pretty wary of the “next big thing” BUT I love art, crypto, and a good auction! So I thought I’d get a taste of this new world, support an artist, and own something unique - why not!
As I browsed popular NFT platform’s OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, and Super Rare I was overwhelmed by the options and frankly the price tags. There are millions of NFTs available, some from known artists while others are everyday creators. Was I just blindly searching for a treasure amongst the trash? Would I ever find something that visually spoke to me, had a story, and even resale value?
Luckily one of my favorite artists, CJ Hendry, announced she was auctioning her first NFT. CJ is part of this new generation of artists that’s successfully leveraged social media to build a loyal following, sell limited drops, host instagrammable popups, and most importantly - experiment with new mediums. She’s best known for her works in colored pencil and her piece “Copyright Infringement” a replica of Michael Halsband’s infamous boxing photo of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michael Basquiat immediately landed her in hot water. She was threatened with a hefty lawsuit or proof that she destroyed the work. The 43-second video that she took spraypainting the drawing completely black as evidence to appease the lawyers, well she brilliantly decided to turn that into an NFT.
Many artists have destroyed works, from Rauschenberg's erased de Kooning to Banksy shredding his own painting post-auction. In that vein, I thought this NFT was particularly interesting since CJ’s original drawing had been deemed valueless due to copyright infringement laws, but was now worth something thanks to fair use. Instead of selling a black square canvas, which is pretty boring, she’s able to take the video, tokenize it, and sell it. Since it’s completely unique and unlike her normal body of work, I wanted it - but there were only a few hours left to bid.
Super Rare requires you to have a Metamask ethereum based wallet installed before you can even access the platform. I had to install Metamask, transfer the cryptocurrency Ether into it, then I could bid on CJ’s “Copyright Infringement” NFT. Bing, Bang, Boom! Simple. Yeah Right!
Three hours later, I had Metamask installed, the funds I had sent weren’t showing up in the wallet, and worse, Super Rare didn’t recognize Metamask so I still couldn’t log in. Frustrated and starting to panic about missing hundreds of dollars in crypto and the remaining time, I utilized a lifeline and called my brother. He helped me debug my Metamask wallet, which fixed the balance issue and allowed me to finally log in - phew! Thank you again Geoffers!
The ground rule I gave myself was that if “Copyright Infringement” was less than the price of a custom work then I would bid, but with 15 minutes remaining in the auction the current bid was WELL WELL above that - we’re talking 5x more! I wasn’t prepared for the prices to be so irrational, but what did I expect? After all, an NFT of a single grey pixel sold for $1.3 million. Folks, we are not in Kansas anymore!
Needless to say, I watched the auction close and was disappointed, but not deterred. I kept scrolling through NFT marketplaces, researching digital artists, but nothing struck my fancy. A couple of days later a friend posted on Twitter that her eleven-year-old daughter had listed some NFTs for sale. In the Maxwell family we have a non-negotiable rule that if you see a lemonade stand, you must stop and buy lemonade in support. Perhaps this could be my way of contributing via a “digital lemonade stand” so to speak.
I knew I had struck gold when of the seven pieces she listed, including a great commentary on screen time, some Lisa Frank-style bubbles, and an awesome unicorn - there was a shiny apple! The artist Barnaby Barford did a show in 2019 titled More More More centered around the apple and its symbolism throughout art, religion, and history. I was excited by the thought of adding a pixel apple to my collection of porcelain and paper apples. I submitted an offer for around $25 worth of ETH plus $5 for fees and it was accepted! The apple was mine. ❤️ 🍎
Now that I have an NFT, what’s next? I received a digital file with the work and essentially have limited rights to how I can present the image. Even though you can also download the file yourselves, you don’t have the rights to sell it. So while you can enjoy the shiny apple, as the owner only I can loan it to the Pompidou NFT’s exhibit, project it on the side of the Empire State Building, license it for an Apple commercial, and so much more. And someday if and when I decide to sell it, it has programmed royalties so our young entrepreneur can continue making money and funding her Robux account.
Experimenting with NFTs was fun, but as a crypto vet, I honestly found the process unnecessarily complicated and don’t see myself seriously investing in NFTs in the future. Plus with everyone rushing to list an NFT it’s really difficult to discern what’s worth buying and still too early to know if digital ownership translates into real-world value. There are also outstanding questions about the environmental impact of NFTs and whether the hype from auction houses is creating a dangerous bubble in the art market. As with any new space, I’ll be following along and will continue to share updates as it evolves.
This is just at the beginning and even with the craziness, I am energized to see that people are inspired to create. Whether it’s an NFT or something else, this is a good time to make something and see what happens.
If you liked this issue please give it some love 🧡, forward it to a friend, or send me an email. If you’re new to Chief of Stuff and want to check out previous issues, they are all available here.