How to Snuff Them Out, How to Stand in Their Way
An Essay About Crypto Art Collectors
This is the third of a series of five essays written on crypto art collectorship through the Summer and Fall of 2023. These essays were based on 18 interviews conducted in April and May 2023. While not every collector interviewed appears in every essay, their collective insight heavily influenced the direction and creation of these essays. I extend utmost gratitude to them all.
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Omz: Collector since 2020. First NFT: The Protector by Trevor Jones and Jose Delbo
Pindar van Arman: Artist and collector since 2018 . First NFT: Echoes of a Dead Earth by XCOPY
Artnome: Artist, Popularizer of NFTs. Collector since 2017. First NFT: Moxarra
Sarah Zucker: Artist. Collector since 2019. First NFT: Digital LSD — Synthesis_Batch_20190505 by FractalEncrypt
Cozomo de’ Medici: Collector since 2021
Sats Moon: Collector since 2020. First NFT: White Boombox by Lyle Owerko
TokenAngels: Collector since 2019. First NFT: Autoglyph #504 by LarvaLabs
TennesseeJed: Collector since 2020. First NFT: Sean Mick
Chorus: There are many things I do not know. Like what lies behind door number two (Could be a boat!). Like whatever is going bump in my closet every night. Like what treasures sleep in the infinite tax-free storehouses of Switzerland.
What I do know, however, is that I’m rich, rich I say! Fabulously rich! Otherwise bored with all these billions of dollars, I seek what all men of such means seek: immortality. Like everything else in the world, I suspect immortality is A) for sale, but B) hidden away somewhere, maybe in one of those Swiss storehouses. Fortunately, I need only snap my fingers, and men with multisyllabic names will come running to confirm my suspicions. Men like Larry Gagosian, Joseph Duveen, and Leo Castelli.
These men are not just men but mages, arcane manipulators who know many secrets, such as What is immortality?, Where is it hidden?, and How can I make it mine? In practical terms, they’re art dealers.
Of these three, Duveen was both the prototype and probably the most publicly impactful figure, a man whose clients wielded names long since welded into the very fabric of American life: Mellon, Rockefeller, Hearst, Morgan, Frick.“In his five decades of selling [art]… Duveen, by amazing energy and audacity, transformed the American taste in art. The masterpieces he brought here [from Europe] have fetched up in a number of museums that, simply because they contain these masterpieces, rank among the greatest in the world,” wrote S.N Behrman in his 1951 New Yorker article, “The Days of Duveen.”
To his clients, First Baron Joseph Duveen of Millebank was Virgil, guiding them through the multi-ringed underworld of history’s “greatest” art. As Berhman notes, Duveen “forced American collectors to accumulate great things, infused them with a fierce pride in collecting, and finally got their collections into museums,” like the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., “making it possible for the American people to see a large share of the world’s most beautiful art without having to go abroad. [Duveen] did it by dazzling the collectors with visions of an Elysium through which they would stroll hand in hand with the illustrious artists of the past, and by making other dealers emulate him.”
Much of Duveen’s success had to do not just with salesmanship but with awareness, two character traits adopted and then hyperbolized by today’s de-facto apex art dealer, Larry Gagosian. In the stunning New Yorker profile “How Larry Gagosian Reshaped the Art World,” Patrick Radden Keefe explains that, “The œuvres of even the most renowned artists are inconsistent. Masterpieces are rare and often hard to find. No central registry records the owners, locations, and prices of art works. Being a good secondary dealer requires knowing which people are collectors, where they live, what hangs inside their houses — and whether they might be induced to part with any of it.” Much of the world’s most sought-after art does not live in public, after all, but instead above an industrialist’s chaise lounge; outside the bathroom in an heiress’ penthouse apartment; in places like “The Geneva Freeport — a tax-free zone in Switzerland where art is stored, for a fee, in climate-controlled, highly secure facilities — [and which] is thought to contain more than fifty billion dollars’ worth of art and antiquities,” as Keefe explains. Gagosian ascended to the highest heights of American arts because he, more than anyone perhaps in history, accessed, indexed, and internalized such information, much of it handed to him personally by Castelli, his mentor, a man who spent the back half of the 20th-century building an empire of his own using the same principles.
Around the highest levels of wealth and influence, magi like Gagosian and Castelli and Lord Duveen create an ever-swirling maelstrom of class and taste of which they are in the center. By being figures of such singular import and acclaim, the pieces they endorse and sell take on a similar sheen. In his subsequent article on Duveen, “The Days of Duveen: The Silent Men,” Behrman notes how, “Duveen’s clients preferred to pay huge sums, and Duveen made them happy. A dealer offered [an artwork] to [William Randolph Hearst] for fifty thousand dollars; Hearst spurned it. Duveen offered it to him later for two hundred thousand and he bought it with gratitude.” Such was the power of affixing a so-called “Duveen price,” to something. If Duveen was selling it, no matter what it was, where it was from, or what it had been worth before, it was considered a masterwork. From that spawned Duveen’s “…cardinal dictum: ‘When you pay high for the priceless, you’re getting it cheap.’”
All the articles I consulted for this piece tried at length to understand not just how these individuals became so singularly successful at capturing the high art market, but just how much their actions have shaped the broader artistic continuum’s understanding of itself. If Duveen was selling works he self-identified as masterworks to Andrew Mellon, who then enshrined those works in the National Gallery, then conceivably it is Duveen’s perspective on art history which we are actually admiring when we walk through those pink, Tennessean-marble halls. Moreover Keefe applies this same principle to Gagosian, writing, “…it has long been suggested that many of Gagosian’s collectors simply ape his taste. In 1984, the cantankerous art critic Robert Hughes bemoaned the new generation of collectors: ‘Most of the time, they buy what other people buy. They move in great schools, like bluefish, all identical.’” This principle is so hyperbolic, in fact, that Keefe later invokes how, “In the 2008 book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, Don Thompson quotes a former Gagosian staffer who claims that when the gallery tells a client, ‘Larry said you need this for your collection,’ the client sometimes blurts ‘I’ll take it!’ before asking what the work costs or looks like.”
And so, for the last century-or-so, it has been the art dealers and gallerists, knowers of secrets and makers of taste, who have bestowed the title of master on whomever they’ve seen fit, leaving collectors and museums to either take their advice or be left behind.
But times have changed. Unlike generations of the ultra-rich before me, I am a child of the internet, rich because of the internet, and I have learned through my incessant internetting that these aforementioned magi are charlatans, mere hot readers proffering themselves as prophets. In my internet art world, there are no secrets, nothing can be hidden. If I want to know where immortality is held, by whom, what was paid for it, and every pair of hands it passed through, I simply need to know of its existence. I need no Lords, no invitations to Gagosian’s legendary Amagansett affairs (“A Gagosian party requires adroit curation. Too many billionaires and it’ll be as dull as Davos<em>; too many artists and celebrities and who’s going to buy the art?” as per Keefe.). I need only to know such things myself. In an art world where provenance is public, art dealers have little power, for their power was knowledge, and now knowledge is free to anyone who cares to take it.
Crypto art seems specifically designed to deny the hegemony of the art dealer, doesn’t it? The transparency. The open access to anything, and all the information about it. The royalties which keep an artist aware of their work’s movement, which hitherto happened wholly out of their hands. But the power stripped from art dealers hasn’t disappeared. No, it has instead been transferred to a different breed of immortality peddlers. They are their own dealers, curators, gallerists, agents, and museums. They identify work, purchase it, and imbue it with importance from that fact alone, from its simple presence in collections which bear their names. In contrast to art dealers, they work in public, and oftentimes announce their intentions, announce everything, safeguarding overcommunication as men like Duveen one day safeguarded discretion.
In crypto art, it is collectors who have inherited all the hats once worn by old art world power.
But do collectors fully recognize the power they possess?
It’s a power to elevate this movement to one of global momentousness, as Gagosian did for contemporary artists like Basquiat and Jeff Koons and Cy Twombly, as Castelli did for postmodern icons like Jasper Johns or Lichtenstein, as Lord Duveen did for the European masters who had not yet been coveted in America. It is a power to bestow upon the world the righteousness of their taste, and thus present crypto art prismatically, which is the only way to present it accurately.
But collectors also possess the power to destroy crypto art, to commoditize it completely, to sap the art of its artistry, to shirk their newfound responsibility so as to prioritize profits or influence, thus mangling crypto art into a Kronenberg’s monster of unrelated parts: a glitchy green face, AI-generated tentacles, skin sculpted in Blender, a neo-precisionist maw filled with rows of pixelated teeth, none of it bound by the logic of history or sensibility or intention. The creature itself, which is the grandiosity of crypto art, not the beautiful, sprawling, cohesive continuum it could be if composed correctly, but a series of accidents, produced as accidents, treated as accidents, and doomed to die quietly — chained to a basement radiator, squealing in the night as it starves amongst its own filth — as accidents often do.
This is an essay about great power and great responsibility.
In crypto art, amongst such a glut of technically-brilliant and conceptually-inspired artwork, artists are essentially powerless. There are a dozen equally-talented neo-precisionists for every Grant Yun, a hundred generative whizkids for every Cherniak, a thousand AI masterminds for every Claire Silver. It doesn’t matter if you’re Tyler Hobbs or Matt Kane or Snowfro</a>; it doesn’t matter if you’ve created the single most important artwork of the last century (I’ve argued, actually, that Kane has done just that), because your artwork has an original sin it can never outrun. And that sin is that it’s only one artwork, a teeny node in a larger matrix that expands everyday, naturally reducing the size and importance of any single artistry until it achieves one of three fates, ranked below in order of horrificness:
- Least horrifically, an artwork is collected by someone of knowledge and vision and taste, plucked from the endless raging river of freshly-created crypto art, and within this collection it becomes more than it could ever be alone. The colors seem brighter by contrast, the message reverberates throughout a wider and more intricate chamber. The work, in this collection, is thereafter remembered — by someone, somewhere — for the part it played in crypto art.
- Only slightly more horrific, the art is forgotten entirely. Perhaps it made someone feel something at some point, but history does not remember it. It never made much money, was never collected, but the artist honored their truest vision, and that must be enough.
- The worst fate of all. The art becomes so disgustingly commoditized that the artist is reduced to the level of iconography, a Warhol, a Basquiat, an artist with a name so ubiquitous that they become a cliché; few will ever really know them or their work. The artist becomes a caricature of themselves, trapped in a story written by others for their own purposes. That is true erasure, one that steals your name and face but leaves your essence to rot. Because the only thing worse than not being remembered is being remembered falsely.
It brings me no joy to report these *purely anecdotal* findings. Especially because artists are the vital engine of every art movement, especially this one. But because there’s so much of it, art requires a proper collector and a proper collection to have any hope of longevity. Within such a collection, an artwork will lend its voice to a greater harmony. It will supersede its position as a single mind’s single perspective and make clearer the rumbling ur-voice of a generation, of a country, of an underground internet society. Such collectors are artists of their own kind, who through the strength of either their taste or their intentions can weave artistry together into a comprehensive, richly-emotive or highly-educational, tapestry, not just ensuring that the art itself perseveres, but elevating the artwork via its nearness to others.
This does not happen automatically, of course. It is the product of intense devotion by collectors to their craft, with the same single-minded intention and spiritual call to expression demonstrated by artists. “I think if you asked an artist why they create the crypto art they do, my answer would be similar to many of theirs,” ProteinProsecco told me. “There’s some kind of inspiration that arises like a whisper, and cultivates a mysterious sense of necessity…A person’s collection is a bit of a window into their soul in that sense, the same way an artist bares his soul in his work.”
When this expresses itself positively, the power it implies is palpable. I love how Conlan Rios put this: “A lot of collectors, we don’t consider ourselves creative. But you give me a voice to express how I feel through your art…As a collector, Im saying to the artist ‘Give me tools to express myself in this world.’” You know instinctively when you stumble into a collection like this, though no two look exactly alike. Such collections supplant price point and they supplant style. Conlan’s collection on SuperRare, for instance, is a mix of editions and 1/1s, many from early crypto artists like Rutger van der Tas and MissalSimpson and Marco R (formerly Visiones). A lot of these pieces feature faces in the center of the frame, or if not faces, then figures or mandalas or shapes, all converging at the midsection of their frames. Scatter in some sporadic generative works, a bewildering 3D sculpture by Richard Masa (below), and you have a powerful sense of the collector’s taste. The individual works are elevated within that collection by proximity to each other, as if trees in a great forest connected by mycelium networks of meaning under the soil.
One of my favorite collections belongs to Artie Handz, who began his NFT journey in NBATopshot — like me! — but who turned himself to crypto art and never turned away. “I try not to operate with any hard rules,” he told me. “…I try to ask before I buy anything when I’m looking through things, why is this on-chain? Sometimes the answer is This artist is from Bangladesh, and there’s no art market in Bangladesh, and they’re minting on Tezos because it’s free, and that’s awesome…I’m looking for Is this is pushing the medium forward, the blockchain medium forward, or what digital art means?”
Artie’s collection on Opensea is full of photographs — some black and white, others clearly composite, and many manifesting various levels of AI influence; but all gloriously composed — plus generative works galore, copious references to Punks and Pepes, and an irrepressible expression of color. Many however are so singular (like Richard Nadler’s Holy Ghosts I Seirei I 聖霊) that it seems impossible to stitch them to their neighbors into a larger thesis. At this level of eclecticism, I rub against the limits of my intellect; I know only how these works together make me feel; and they make me feel everything.
Based on the conversations I had, most collectors appear to operate on an often subconscious level, with their collections manifesting their taste (unlike, say, Pindar van Arman, whose artistry and collection both focus heavily on portraiture, conceptualism included). Sarah Zucker described how, “There is a maxim in the world of fine art that says that when people collect art, they are collecting themselves. Meaning that they are compelled to collect the work because something about it reflects them back to themselves, and it makes them feel when they take stewardship of the art as though they’ve gained some part of themselves that was missing.”
Idealistic as that may sound, Behrman’s articles on Lord Duveen come to the same conclusion. “The millionaires of the Duveen Era were all dressed up, but they really had no place to go…The private lives of these sad tycoons were often bitter; their children and their family life disappointed them…But with the works of art it was different. They asked for nothing. They were rewarding. They shed their radiance, and it was a lovely, soothing light. You could take them or leave them, and when you had visitors you could bask in the admiration the pictures and sculptures excited, which was directed toward you even more subtly than toward them, as if you yourself had gathered them and, even, created them. The works of art became their children.”
Zucker’s notion conjures the collector Sats Moon. I’ll tell this story in more detail another time, but Moon lost a prolific collection of early street art in a storage facility fire some years ago. Up in flames went not only the art itself, but the story it collectively told, about street art and about Moon too. So it felt fitting when Moon told me that “Some of the stuff I’m really passionate about is Trash Art, the movement and artists. That was a time which I felt very involved, very early on in 2020, when very few were collecting on Rarible or collecting Trash Art: ROBNESS, Max Osiris, Jay Delay.”. It’s clear that Sats Moon took the same renegade, guerilla sensibilities that inspired his street art collection and resurrected them via crypto art. In doing so, he preserves not only his own taste, but Trash Art itself for future generations to appreciate, just as he once hoped to do with Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and Space Invader.
I could double the length of this essay with anecdotes from collectors on their individual tastes, stories from their journeys panning for gold in the crypto art river (Coldie purchasing work from BigComicArt — then living in Wuhan — as the pandemic began in 2020; TenneseeJed going through a fractured engagement, finding his subsequent depression reflected in the melancholy pieces he collected), but the same conclusion would be reached: Via the collecting process the art is preserved, the artist elevated, and the collector’s skill/taste/eye confirmed. “When a collector collects something…it’s supporting the artist, but it’s a double direction relationship. It’s also that artist that is helping that person to elevate him as a collector,” TokenAngels said.
While TenneseeJed is probably correct when he asserts “Nobody is looking at other peoples’ collections today,” I think that’s taking a short view of things. Collections always take on greater importance over time, and I believe that, especially if/when crypto sees another bull market, we will see such an overwhelming influx of artistry that the only way we’ll be able to orient ourselves within crypto art at all is through the work of our most curatorial and forthcoming collectors.
It’s easy to know in the traditional art world who among the collectors and dealers actually loves the art. They talk about it incessantly, they seek it out, they live with it, they quibble over its location. As Keefe tells us, “There’s no question that Gagosian cares deeply about art. Like a lot of high-end collectors, he rhapsodizes about what it’s like to ‘live with’ art, suggesting that it’s one thing to appreciate a painting in a museum or at somebody else’s dinner party but a whole other plane of experience to wake up each day and see a Lichtenstein or a Warhol.”
Crypto art has no similarly-clear dividing line. A collection created with the best of intentions is essentially identical to one created for seedy, profiteering ones. Crypto art has little history, a notoriety structure that depends on Twitter engagement, an oft-decried lack of critical analysis, and a money problem. And so while collectors of taste and repute can and will preserve the narratives and individuals of most true import and impact, all their work can and will be undone by the further accumulation of power by a few Nega-collectors, individuals who care little for the art they purchase, who care only for themselves and what heights they can reach if they stand on their stacked canvases. This threatens not only to destroy a career here or there, it threatens the movement’s existence as a whole.
And only we ourselves can stop that from happening.
First, we must establish and understand the difference between The Collector and their evil doppelganger: The Buyer. Andrew Mellon, for example, was a bonafide Collector, who knew that the only way he’d ever really scrape immortality was to gift his collection to the world. The Buyer wouldn’t care about anything like that, being interested only in their own economic or reputational success. That might mean currying celebrity so as to create the impression that they have taste. It might mean hiding their purchases away in a warehouse to “appreciate.” And while there are certainly criticisms to be made of the art dealers I’ve invoked throughout this essay, give them this: They encourage the art they deal to be seen. That, in fact, is their very appeal: They don’t just sell art, they place it into the right rooms and institutions, where it will be widely seen and appreciated (thus inflating its future price).
Though crypto artworks cannot be buried in storage lockers, my fear is that Buyers will come to monopolize the space. After all, it’s a lot easier to be a Buyer than a Collector. Achieving the latter title takes vision, confidence, half a brain; buying requires only a hefty wallet, and those are a lot easier to come by. Buyers are neither discerning nor visionary but reactionary, elevating to the upper echelon of artistry only those artists who remain subservient to their whims, or whom they can exploit for profit.
What does it mean if Buyers rise exclusively to prominence? It means artists being sequestered into obscurity if they do not fall in line with their whims.
“Don’t mint that, it’ll dilute your market.”
“That’s too low-priced considering what I paid for your last work.”
“I need you to do me a favor. You owe me that.”
Not having middlemen is both a blessing and a trap. It naturally redistributes power, great, but without art dealers working as middlemen, Buyers are naturally encouraged to exploit the fame their purchase of an artwork can bestow. In a bygone era, an artwork would need to be hung in a notable museum or gallery if it were to be perceived as important. But the crypto art museum is everywhere and omnipresent, so simply being collected is an equivalent endorsement.
That’s almost too much power. And it’s difficult to identify the Buyers vs. the Collectors, especially in the short term. The interpersonal actions of Buyers go generally unpublicized. Unless damning information becomes suddenly and prolifically more forthcoming, it’s basically impossible to know which Collectors are “legitimate” and which are con-men. Artists would know the truth of these individuals better than anyone, but it’s dangerous for an artist to speak out against such a person, especially one of means and popularity. Blacklisting is real. Careers can be mutilated overnight. A large network of followers can easily be weaponized. I don’t think I need say more about how power reacts when threatened…
Via my interviews, I pieced together a portrait of this kind of predatory Buyer (imagine the following quotes read by the voice in a horror movie ad):
- “He finds young artists, but instead of collecting their art, he collects them.”
- “He treats artists as commodities, and he exploits the artists. I know artists who’ve been destroyed by this, experiencing a meteoric rise that was false, based on a few collectors. When those collectors abandoned them, the artists quit the space, saying ‘I can’t sell anymore.’ They can’t sell a single piece now.”
- “He’s not after my art, he’s after me. If I’d let him become my major collector, he’d try to control me.”
The ill-intentioned Buyer must use such shady, backdoor means of imposing their power because in this space, image is everything. If a Buyer is revealed to be a compassionless capitalist or a scumbag a la certain influencers, they can no longer claim the moral superiority upon which their public position as postures. Who will sell work to them? Who will align with them? Such Buyers may forever retain the ability to profit off scamming suckers, a la influencers like Ben.eth, but will be almost certainly excluded from affecting crypto art culturally in the long-term. Subterranean sliminess is vital if the Buyer is to both maximally exploit the artists he collects and be seen as an emissary of the art itself. If he’s not perceived as pure, he won’t be supported by the public and won’t receive endorsements from institutions like Christie’s, 3AC, or Sotheby’s, who even in crypto art possess the ability to further solidify one’s tastemaking status.
Many argue that Buyers give themselves away by exclusively collecting works from already established and famous artists. While I understand that thinking on its face, I not only push back on the notion, I believe it’s demonstrative of why these Buyers so often go undetected.
I often see Cozomo de’ Medici used as the poster-child for this kind of collector, so I will use him as an example herein. Now, I am no sycophant for Mr. Medici, and while I greatly appreciate his input on these essays, that gratitude marks the beginning and end of our relationship. Admittedly, he proclaims himself “Grand patron of the digital arts” and yet most publicly seems to patronize only the most acclaimed level of such arts: XCOPY, Deekay Motion, Sam Spratt.
But one really has to cherry-pick the man’s actions to give that claim validity. In truth, his Twitter page alone showcases a vast array of aesthetics and artworks by artists of all along the notoriety spectrum. Between his eponymous wallet and that of the Medici Emerging Collection, we see a collector whose tastes span hundreds of individual artists, some with huge names, sure, but many without. Consider also his donations to LACMA, his avowed support for curatorial platforms like Deca and Oncyber, or his Medici Minutes newsletter, which I am absolutely not marketing on his behalf, but which brings news of crypto art to an audience far larger than just who/what exists here now. The issue published at the time of this writing featured an interview with Artnome. Altogether, that means something.
Medici’s actions clearly communicate a belief in crypto art. So do his words. In our interview, he said, “The odds that you are alive to witness an artistic revolution, perhaps more important than any before, are slim to none. And you, my fren — and I — are lucky enough to. While the infrastructure isn’t quite there and opportunities aren’t quite clear, I do believe we are in a unique time, where a great many patrons and artists have all assembled purely for the love of art…And I can’t think of anything quite as exciting as that.” Call me naive, but I’m inclined to take the man at his word.
At a certain point, even if it is all some carefully-curated marketing bluster designed to grow a reputation and capture market share, Medici’s multifaceted and ultra-public commitment to crypto artistry sure seems like a serious net positive for the movement as a whole.
The issue, however, is that we can only judge a person by their actions, those of which we’re aware. Maybe Medici does display shady practices in private. I doubt it highly, but maybe he is a vile and manipulative monster. But how would we ever know? All public signs, all communications, all actions point to him being a valuable and well-intentioned patron of the crypto art movement.
We cannot avoid a space where top-heavy collectors exist — today’s high-end artists are also a part of this movement, equally in need of preservation — and since we can’t actually snuff out their real intentions through their collecting habits alone, it would seem we are at the mercy of their PR teams.
I’m going to talk now about the erasure of crypto art, but I don’t mean to say that crypto art as a moment in time will be erased. It can’t be. Crypto art is happening, it is real, and it is known. We can now no longer quantify the entirety of art history without mentioning crypto art, a fact that will only become more apparent as art historians come to realize that their own livelihoods depend on discerning what’s happening here. Crypto art will be mentioned in these conversations.
But what crypto art will that be? This is the erasure that’s still uncertain. Will crypto art become a caricature of itself, trapped in a story written by others for their own purposes? That is true erasure, one that steals our name and our face but leaves our essence to rot. What manifestations of this anarchic, eccentric movement will be preserved in the pages of textbooks, in the speeches given on lecterns in front of a slow-moving slide deck? Will it reflect that the true wonder of crypto art is its glut, its multitudes? What if the Trash Artists aren’t mentioned because “notable” Buyers couldn’t find a way to profit from their uncontrollable, anarchic, mint-happy oeuvres? What if all the Crypto artists in Argentina — from Panter Xhita to the combined might of CryptoArg — are left out of the narrative because Buyers bother only to collect works within English-speaking spheres? The Osinachi’s of Nigeria, the Linda Dounia’s of Senegal, the Rayan Elnayal’s of Sudan: What if all are believed too foreign for the Euro/America-centric art world hierarchy, and so their massive contributions to crypto art are slowly squeezed into the shadows?
We won’t for a long while know the truth about which collectors are dangerous. We may never know. Shadiness can always be tamped down and swept away. Money and might can silence many would-be whistleblowers. So that leaves the movement to fend for itself. Without the bulwark of the middleman, we must be our own bulwarks, each of us, with our own crucial set of responsibilities.
Artists themselves, well I’m actually not sure how much they can do in this situation. If I offer $100,000 for an artist’s work, very few can be realistically relied upon to turn that down in the event that I am a fiend. Besides, we want artists to focus on creating art. The more money they receive for that art, the more art they can thereafter create. Artnome made this point clearly, saying, “Art is pretty great, it’s a really good part of our life, and you have to spend money on it if you want people to keep making the work, you need to reward them, whether it’s financially or socially.”
Us enthusiasts and writers and observers in crypto art, however, we must quickly and loudly support any platform that helps flatten the publicity curve. We need to stop internalizing the biased beliefs of a handful of collectors who are really good at marketing themselves on Twitter. Many possess no special skills, no Gagosian charm, only a large wallet (theirs or someone else’s). As Omz said, “The notable collectors in the space are those who spend the most money, full stop. Actually, I think it’s inverse. The best collectors are the ones who spend the least because they have to be more resourceful, they really take some time and put a lot of their effort into identifying works.” In that same way, we all have to be better patrons of the arts. Simply recognizing that a high price tag does not a masterwork make is a good start. Confidence in our own taste is paramount. But diversifying our own following habits, drastically increasing the amount of discovery we ourselves are doing, these are also categorical imperatives. Otherwise merely sheep grazing where we’re told to graze, a gaggle of cows mindlessly trotting toward the sound of a saxophone.
But most of all, collectors must do more. Collectors of all sizes and reputations must not only expose and publicize the wrongdoing or tastelessness they see, they must expose and publicize their own collections, so that the elevated beauty which comes from their taste can be seen by the rest of us. Give us the tools to appreciate you; this is the way. “If you are a traveler, okay, if you are the same traveler you will go where you see everybody going going to that place in that time, but if you are an adventurous, cool, interesting traveler, you will try to find places that are unreachable from the others, you want to be the first to go there to enjoy that place to the fullest,” TokenAngels told me. And as more and more people go off that beaten path, as they find new gems to admire, they will talk about their discoveries, preach them, draw attention away from the tourist traps. There are few more powerful effects than word-of-mouth. “When I buy a piece of art from an artist that I believe in, my job is to take that art and to promote it, spread it…As an early adopter, as a fan, as an investor, our job is to promote and push these artists. Everyone in my collection, I’m rooting for, I want more people to know about it, more people to see it,” Sats Moon said.
Without implicating Mr. Moon himself, my question is: In how many ways and with what intensity are we doing so? If only the few collectors with the most funds are interested in projecting their power across institutions, in making connections with metaverse companies, in sponsoring exhibitions and buying giant screens in Times Square, then we will be swept over. Why are there so few collector collectives, and why are they so quiet in their collectorship? Why aren’t more collectors taking every opportunity to grow their footprints, to get more eyes on their collections, to amass a following and thus level the playing field with their deleterious doppelgangers? The rest of us will create means for you to do so! Come on our podcasts, give us Tweets to blast out, erect your collection anew in every possible platform (I can name like nine off the top of my head). Our lack of middlemen in crypto art is great in many ways, but it also places immense responsibility onto the shoulders of collectors. It is a responsibility to be vocal about who the bad actors are. It is a responsibility to bring more artwork and artists into the light of recognition. It is a responsibility to shepherd the madcap truth of this movement into the future. I want to see more creative solutions to the problems we all see and all decry. I humbly ask for more.
If artists must master marketing so as to make their own careers, so too must collectors. Stick your art in front of my face and make me look at it, just as the Buyers are doing. It’s not enough to merely collect with intention, you must communicate to the world that intentional collection is the only way forward. Call out the bad actors whom artists cannot; make use of your protected perch. Help everyone help ourselves. Or let this all fall to rubble, the movement, the works you love, the artists you purport to support. Contribute to the erasure not because of all you did, but because of all you didn’t.