Are NFTs really art? | Non-fungible tokens (NFT)


In January, a clip from The Tonight Show featuring Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton went viral: not because either said anything particularly interesting or outrageous, but because the interview was so strange in content and style. In the video, Hilton, who looks like a telegenic, radioactive Barbie in a lime-green cocktail dress, discusses Bored Ape NFTs, the popular crypto images that have been selling for a minimum of $200,000 since they were first released in April 2021.

“I’m so glad I told you what they were,” she informs Fallon in a voice a little lower than her usual characteristic purr.

“You taught me what’s going on,” he nods, “and then I bought a monkey.”

Their back and forth, despite these two having worked in entertainment for at least two decades, has all the casual naturalism of chatbot conversation, as if someone had done a Paris-Hilton-Jimmy-Fallon Carefully crafted deepfake fail the Turing test.

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Hilton, as it happens, isn’t the only quintessential cultural icon of the 2000s to embrace NFTs (non-fungible tokens; a unique piece of digital art), though she may be the only one to do so. describe as having “literally taken over my whole mind and soul”. Lindsay Lohan, who once helped advise Interview magazine readers on how to get “Damn rich on NFTs”worked with a collective called Canine Cartel to post a much mocked “fursona” NFT which depicted her as a sultry cartoon wolf. Gwyneth Paltrow revealed last month that she had acquired a Bored Ape NFT, his blonde hair and Breton shirt chosen to reflect his subtle taste. Eminem – never one to miss a pun opportunity – bought a so called “EminApe”.

The Bored Ape known as Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Photograph: Courtesy of Yuga Labs

There’s something eerily perfect about the marriage between NFTs and the period’s most memorable characters, perhaps because many of the most popular works tend to lean towards a mid-to-late aesthetic. late 2000s: bright, caricatural, closer to a two-dimensional image. Funko pop than fine art. “A lot of the NFT market is based on collectibles,” art critic JJ Charlesworth told Vice, “and there’s always been a visual culture in collecting: from comic books to sneakers to by baseball cards – it’s very common.”

The most popular NFTs feature a single figure on a colored background, making Charlesworth’s comparison to a baseball card particularly apt. The Bored Apes all feature the same humanoid ape wearing a variety of accessories and disguises; Lazy lions do the same thing, but with lions; CryptoSharks, at least, have the distinction of being shown in various grim global settings and vaguely rendered, as if transposed into Hollywood or Beijing’s vision of an acid-tripper. I recently received an email about a limited series of NFTs called “Lobstars”, which depict “hyper pop” lobsters dressed as familiar works of art, including Andy Warhol’s soup cans and Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. On OpenSea, the famous NFT market, it is possible to type almost any animal and find a corresponding series. (I was somewhat stunned, for example, to find that an enterprising soul had produced 11 loudly patterned ‘Lazy Anglerfish’; one has so far sold for around the equivalent of £22) .

The advantage of many NFTs having a uniform visual style is that, theoretically, as many of the medium’s biggest fans will point out, there is something inherently democratic about their design and acquisition. While not all NFT creators make the kind of money that Bored Ape Yacht Club makes, they still have a fairly equal opportunity to share their work. Finding coins in OpenSea is far easier than buying physical works from a gallery or auction, and the only barrier to entry is a working knowledge of cryptocurrency. Shoppers and artists who grew up on the internet in the 2000s, meanwhile, may experience deja vu when given the ability to customize what is effectively an avatar, going back to cartoons in online like Blingees or Dollz Mania. When a series of articles appeared in 2021 suggesting that NFTs could be the Beanie Babies of the 2020s, the comparison was meant to be an insult; Still, it’s hard to overstate the power of nostalgia when it comes to millennials on the web.

In part, the interchangeability of these best-selling NFTs is a result of the way they are produced: Bored Apes and Lazy Lions, for example, are created with an AI which adds minor variations to a pattern until 10,000 unique versions have been created. Their similarity also makes those who buy them stand out as members of a club, making them as obvious a scourge of shopper’s wealth as a Birkin bag or a shiny red Ferrari. In the case of Bored Ape NFTs, the purchase literally grants the owner access to private online parties, making it a gateway to networking with other influencers.

Paris Hilton Jimmy Fallon
Paris Hilton talks to Jimmy Fallon about NFTs. Photography: NBC Photo Bank/NBCU/Getty Images

Unlike Fallon, I didn’t get a chance to have NFTs explained to me by Hilton; I can see, however, why they might appeal to internet savvy celebrities, especially those dedicated to growing a social network. If they recall an earlier trend in the art world among hugely famous people, it might be the buying craze for pieces by New York artist KAWS, whose Mickey Mouse-like characters with cartoonish skulls began appearing in the homes of celebrities in the 2010s, and whose work has become particularly popular with the Kardashians due to its Instagrammable aesthetic.

“If branding and concept are the two most important elements to becoming a world-conquering artist in 2021,” suggests a GQ profile of the artist, “then KAWS is one of the few who has mastered both. .” Aside from the fact that this is perhaps one of the most depressing sentences ever written about art, if “branding” is 50% of what it takes to becoming “a world-conquering artist” makes sense for NFTs to conquer a space very similar to that previously dominated by the likes of KAWS and, even earlier, by pop artists like Jeff Koons. The art that exists as a status symbol and an investment, wrapped in a shell so commonplace that it requires absolutely no knowledge of art history to appreciate its style, has long interested those who seek to express, impress their wealthy peers and add to their financial portfolios all at once.

Like Koons, who produced garish bags for Louis Vuitton, and KAWS, who designed a catwalk for Dior Homme, Bored Ape Yacht Club recently announced it was embarking on its own fashion collaboration with Adidas – a move that turns out to be much easier. for an artist or collective when their work already looks like a logo. If Bored Apes, Lazy Lions, and Lobstars can be seen as part of a centuries-old tradition of artists depicting animals in their art, they can just as easily be seen as following the Ralph Lauren Polo horse, the Lacoste crocodile, or the swan. Swarovski in a long line of instantly recognizable fashion creatures designed to telegraph status and expensive taste.

Just because the most popular NFTs tend to be simple, shiny, cartoonish, and produced in huge variable sequences doesn’t mean that’s the only form of NFT that can be hit. It is possible, for example, to make one from a video. Rewatching this very weird, very 2022 segment of Hilton and Fallon talking with moderate enthusiasm about MoonPay and Bored Apes, I wondered if anyone had ever been savvy enough to turn this particular clip into an NFT. The downright artificial TV lighting and stilted dialogue give the scene an unreal, almost hallucinatory quality. As in some of the CGI pop culture collages created by artist Beeple, who once posted a stunning NFT of an absurdly muscular Elon Musk in front of an exploding rocket, we see familiar characters in a bewildering and unfamiliar context.

As a historical artifact, the interview also deftly captures a very specific period in human history: a period in which the phrase “You taught me what’s going on, and then I bought a monkey” means something completely different from what she might have had just six months ago. . At the end of the video, Hilton tells the audience that she is giving them each an NFT, and Fallon says it has to be the first NFT giveaway in television history. “Iconic,” Hilton smiles, and in keeping with the loose, hyperbolic modern usage of the word — which can apply to a TikTok or a jpeg of a monkey as easily as it can apply, say, to a work by Basquiat – she may be right.


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