Fresh off the successful launch of its first global edition in Seoul, Korea, earlier this month, Now Media’s flagship digital art experience Gateway is returning to its city of origin in style.
For its third edition, Gateway Miami will take over the iconic Faena Forum from Dec. 6-8, marking the first time the event has ever been held on South Beach during Art Basel Miami. The three-day activation will include an immersive audiovisual gallery of premier digital artists, conversations with thought leaders, and top-tier partner activations.
Situated in the heart of South Beach’s Faena District, the Faena Forum is an elegant venue designed by Rem Koolhaas and the OMA team, led by Shohei Shigematsu. It features two grand halls, a rose marble amphitheater, and ease of access from the week’s major art fairs on the beach. After two years of hosting Gateway in downtown Miami, the move to Faena Forum represents a significant evolution for the event series, showcasing the intersection of the digital and physical art worlds and the rapidly growing category of digital fashion and luxury.
This year’s Gateway Miami follows last year’s five-day festival during Miami Art Week, which took over 12 buildings and two city blocks in downtown Miami. The event welcomed 12,000 visitors and featured leading brand partners such as Christie’s, Instagram (Meta), Porsche, FaZe Clan, RTFKT, Art Blocks, Alo Yoga, WME, MetaMask, 9dcc by gmoney, and more.
The Gateway Miami announcement arrives at a time of explosive global expansion for the franchise. Held from Sept. 6-8 in partnership with Factblock, Gateway Korea debuted as one of the main events at Korea Blockchain Week and drew more than 4,500 total attendees to its star-studded opening party and two days of speaker programming.
The largest digital art experience in Korea’s history featured over 75 artists and activations by Christie’s, adidas /// Studio, SK Telecom, Beatport.io, and Polkadot, and was hosted in partnership with LG Electronics, ARC, Kooksoondang, and I’m eco. Highlights included the exclusive global premiere of Keith Haring’s first-ever digital works with Christie’s, Beeple’s first-ever exhibition in Korea, and adidas /// Studio’s launch of Residency, a web3-powered digital artist-in-residency program for emerging and established artists.
Building on the momentum of Gateway Korea’s smash debut, Gateway Miami promises to write yet another compelling chapter in the Gateway series’ celebration of creative cross-pollination.
Stay tuned for more details on Gateway Miami in the months ahead.
Everyone remembers the person who introduced them to Web3.
Web3 builder and advisor Zeneca has filled that role for many newcomers to the space, offering a wide range of educational offerings via his ZenAcademy and 333 Club communities.
Today (Aug. 30), Zeneca took the next step in developing its ecosystem through the Denizens of ZenAcademy drop. After resisting the temptation of releasing a PFP project for years, he finally decided to take the plunge through a non-dilutive token swap for existing community members.
“What changed for me was now we have a community; we already have that foundation,” he explains. “We have people who are excited about this PFP and want to represent the community on social media, Discord, and build the brand with us. Through that lens, it started to make sense to strengthen and enhance our existing community rather than use it to fund and build a community.”
In a candid nft now podcast interview, Zeneca dives into his Denizens project, offers valuable advice for content creators and community builders, and gives his unvarnished opinion on the current market.
Matt Medved: Let’s hear the backstory. How did you get into Web3?
Zeneca: I was a professional poker player for 15 years. That’s all I did. I went from high school to poker. And then I dabbled in crypto in 2017, like many people, but it was really like, I just had my money on exchanges. I was trading, and it’s fun when the number goes up, and then [the market] crashed. And I was like, ah, that was a fun experiment, and let’s go back to real life.
But in early 2021, obviously, the bull market was taking off again. And I came back in, and some friends told me about crypto and DeFi. And I was like, there’s stuff now you can actually do stuff on Ethereum, there’s applications, and it really blew my mind. I saw it and asked, “Why is everyone in the world not talking about this?” Then I just fell down the rabbit hole, and I’m honestly still falling and just got obsessed.
You launched the Zen Academy in November 2021. For those who may not be familiar, what is the Zen Academy, and what was your vision behind starting it?
I was doing a lot of trading in 2021. But then, halfway through June, I started creating content. Newsletter writing, long Twitter threads, and it just kind of all blew up. And I think a huge part of that obviously was the bull market— right place, right time. And very few other people were creating NFT content.
Then it all started like blowing up, and I realized, ‘Hey, I love this. I enjoy creating content. I like writing. I like educating. It’s fulfilling. It’s rewarding. Wow, can I do this full-time? I don’t want to be trading anymore. I don’t want to go back to Poker. And then you think of the traditional models for monetizing as a content creator and writer; there’s Patreon, sponsors, and affiliate links.’
And I was like, You know what? I’m all in on NFTs. I will sell an NFT that acts like a membership token, and that will be it. We’ll have royalties forever, and everyone will be happy, and it’ll work. Obviously, that didn’t quite pan out that way, but it was an experiment, and I said, “You know what? This is what I want to do.”
[My token] was relatively affordable at the time. A few thousand people minted, and we’ve spent the last two years figuring it out, creating courses, putting out newsletters, and just generally trying to educate people. That’s the entire thesis of our community. I mean, it’s there in the name “Academy.” It’s all about creating educational content and helping.
Let’s dive into Denizens. This is your first PFP project. What is it, and why now?
“Why PFPs?” is a good question everyone should answer before launching a collection. Even in 2021, let alone now.
When I first launched Zen Academy, I was extremely intentional about not doing PFPs. Cause everyone was doing it at the time. This is the peak bull in November 2021. At that time, I was like, there’s way too many PFPs. We don’t need another PFP project. Obviously, we’ve had a billion more come out since then and now.
What changed for me was now we have a community; we already have that foundation. We have people who are excited about this PFP and who want to represent the community on social media, Discord, and build out the brand with us. Through that lens, it started to make sense to strengthen and enhance our existing community rather than use it to fund and build a community. We’re not selling it. We’re not making a public sale. We’re not making any money again, perhaps to our detriment. Burn your previous token and get a PFP. That’s the mechanism; it’s non-dilutive. It’s landed well with our community.
How will the Denizens play into the overall ecosystem of Zen Academy, 333, etc.?
Yeah, so basically, we are a membership community with three tiers. So, I would say 333 is the top premium maximum 333 tokens. Denizens are like the middle tier 10,000 PFPs. They’re like members of Zen Academy: they get the same utility that they always have and will in the future, which is, you know, access to courses. I create discounts for things, newsletters, free educational materials that the general public might otherwise pay for, and things like that. That is our way of trying to deliver tangible value and utility.
Instead of going and paying $200 or $300 for a 15-hour video course, you can buy our token and get a course for free and things like that. And then we have the more accessible inclusive tier. We have the student IDs, which are the Soul Bound Unlimited supply of NFTs that anyone can go to a website now and mint. That gets you into our ecosystem. It’ll get you into a Discord, and you know, you can join our mailing list, and you’re still very much part of the family, and you don’t have to spend, you know, a couple of ETH for a 333 pass.
Many people compare these markets to a casino; you were a poker player before entering Web3. I’m curious— how has that experience given you insight into navigating this space?
It really is like a casino. Most people in the space are gambling one way or another. And I see people all the time who clearly have gambling problems. Maybe they don’t think of it as that because it’s crypto or NFTs and not like the casino or lottery. But personally, my background in gambling has, I think, saved and prepared me tremendously for this space because I’ve spent 15 years making and losing lots of money in short periods of time.
Mentally, I’ve found ways to deal with those swings and not take them too seriously. As well as put together strategies to not do silly things, not succumb to addiction, not chase my losses, and all that kind of stuff. For people who might come from a more traditional background or even, you know, an 18-year-old who doesn’t have that much life experience, it’s so easy to get on the wrong path in this space. I genuinely don’t encourage too many people to enter and splash around with money.
What are your thoughts about where we are in the current market cycle? Where are things going, and how will NFTs play a role in the future?
I have no idea where we are in the market cycle. I think, you know, looking back at like four-year cycles and all that stuff, you can say, okay, maybe in 2024-2025, things will turn around, and that’s when the bull will come. Past performance is no guarantee of the future. It’s like, who knows if it’ll play out that way. The most important thing to me is survival, not losing all your money, leaving the space, totally giving up, and staying mentally sane.
And for me, for most people, I think that’s not trading. That’s not trying to play with fire in this market. Spend some time meeting people, connecting, learning about the technology and what’s coming up. When things seem like they’re taking off again, you can maybe get a little more interested and invested and take advantage of that if that’s your goal.
What else can you tell us about future plans?
Denizen is the big one coming out and will probably be revealed next week. The way to get one is, again, it’s only for our existing community, with no public launch. You’ll have to pick up a token on a secondary market. There’ll be a direct one-to-one burn, pick up a chest, burn, and get a Denizen. Then what’s coming in the future is more courses and more content. I’m working on a personal branding course. I think that that’s something a lot of people want. We’re in the creator economy world, and how to build a personal brand can be valuable.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
Watch or listen to our podcast episode with Zeneca for the full and uncut interview.
For New York artist Sam Spratt, rebirth could only come after the realization that a decade of client work had left him feeling hollow. Despite working with marquee artists like Kid Cudi, he was creatively lost with “nothing to say.”
“I had sidelined every component of what makes you human to create that client list and work on those jobs,” he recalls. “I had totally missed everything else that is life. Just top to bottom, how to be a friend, be in a relationship, and be an artist.”
Spratt unlocked something larger than himself by leaning into his own creative vision. His Luci project has captivated the Web3 art world with its nuanced lore and sprawling vision, garnering a cult following with six-figure sales at major auction houses like Christie’s and assembling a council of notable collectors who hold his coveted Skulls of Luci.
“Despite its appearances, I wasn’t even really attempting to make a cult,” Spratt claims with a sly smile.
The project’s next chapter, entitled The Monument Game, kicked off last night (Aug 21) on Nifty Gateway with the sale of more than 256 “Player” tickets that enable holders to compete for three Skulls of Luci by co-creating stories within Spratt’s new 1/1 artwork, “IX. The Monument Game,” over the course of four days.
In an illuminating nft now podcast interview, Spratt recounts his journey from rock bottom to launching the Luci project and offers us a deep dive into The Monument Game.
Matt Medved: Who is Luci? What is the genesis of the project?
Sam Spratt: Luci was born from the feeling of starting over. When everything went to shit, I felt like I missed every step that every human throughout history has built and left behind. Luci, in a way, is a joke on me. The name Luci references our ancient relative, Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in Afar, Ethiopia, coupled with a few other inspirations fans might discern.
Luci is more than just a product of my personal experiences. It’s a refracted self-portrait. The emotions I express, and the paintings I create, aren’t solely autobiographical; they’re about the shared experiences many have overlooked.
Strangely, the crypto and NFT space seems to attract many people who missed something. Their financial outcomes, whether success or failure, become secondary. I’ve seen individuals who’ve done phenomenally well in their lives but have missed basic tenets of humanity that they are finding here, among brethren who also missed it and are like, “Hey, I stayed inside my room for the last 30 years being a gamer and a gambler. What does friendship look like?”
The primary driver here is to make something that is my whole self. It’s not emotional vomit but a primary motivator to keep going. Get up, build, make something, find your tribe, find people, stitch it together, make something bigger, stretch, grow, tear. This space is good for that. There’s a feeling of decay in whatever we were up to before. There is a profound driver to see and create whatever the future holds.
What’s the story behind the Skulls of Luci?
When I first discovered the space, I saw all these artists without a filter. There was no middle management, agency, label, or studio in between them and their output. I spent about ten months just studying, lurking, following everyone, including you and your classic punk back there. I was far too shy to speak up.
As I observed the NFT space, I noticed two trends: the ephemeral nature of auction stories and the often thoughtless airdrops. Inspired by these, I introduced an idea to create a derivative artwork for every unique bidder on my works. This was my way of showing gratitude. The auctions were surprisingly intense. Notably, the skulls representing Luci were particularly captivating. However, there wasn’t much secondary trading or interaction with the skulls, making me feel a bit disheartened. But as time passed, a deeper appreciation for the skulls emerged, proving that patience and close observation were essential. The Skulls of Luci wasn’t a failure; I just needed to adjust my expectations and timeframe. Art’s communal and participatory nature, especially in the blockchain, enriches its essence. This realization has set the foundation for my next venture, The Monument Game.
What is the Council of Luci?
Earlier this year, I created the council as an experiment. I wanted to see how I could bring this tight group of 50 Skull of Luci holders closer to me and closer to each other. I wanted to do it in a way that was not the proverbial community, without utility or an airdrop.
The council created that communal layer, this story that begins in the image but actually unfolds with the participation of the people around it. The act of collection is not actually just transactional. It is the beginning of an actual bond that, if nurtured and strengthened, can actually do something crazy.
The first initiation took place at my home, the same place I married my wife Rachel. During NFT NYC, I shared this project and what I was trying to do with them. Instead of offering them perks, I made a request: I wanted them to take on responsibility within my art world. They’d be intimately woven into my art in return for offering some of their time and judgment.
They are very intelligent people who approach life from very different angles. I now have this incredible group of people I can go to and ask for advice to test my ideas and never have one guiding voice but dialogue and discourse. I try to live my life by the idea of mental sparring. It’s like everything gets better if you fight it out.
What is The Monument Game? How are you thinking about this technology as a new creative canvas?
The Monument Game was born because I was in Milan and I went to see “The Last Supper.” It’s a painting everyone knows. It is memed to death. It almost feels unspecial despite how famous it is. But then you see it, which is a very confrontational experience. It’s all you’re looking at. I was deeply curious, how do you do that digitally?
I’ve planted the seeds for The Monument Game since Luci began. This includes elements like the story, lore, codes, and even the market structure that evolved from Luci’s inception. The Monument Game is based on four main pillars:
The Painting: This is the most intricate piece I’ve ever crafted. I’ve never poured more love, time, and attention into anything. But I questioned its purpose if one can just scroll past it online. Unlike in a museum where one can sit and absorb a grand artwork, how could I replicate that digital experience? This led me to the idea of creating our own platform.
The Game: It’s a viewer. I consulted with developers, including Duncan Cockfoster of Nifty Gateway, to create a platform where users can zoom into and pan around the vast 20,000-pixel painting. This allows them to delve deep into the hundreds of stories woven throughout.
The First Edition Work: This acts as an entry ticket. It grants the holder access to the one-of-one painting, allowing them to share their observations. This isn’t for everyone. Instead, I wanted to design a system that demands something of you and requires you to give a piece of yourself to it.
The Skulls of Luci: The Council plays a pivotal role. While the painting is the focal point, the Skulls and the council are the community that gathers around the fire. This outer circle of players can inch closer if they play the game well. Once the game closes, the council will deliberate on all 256 observations. Their task is to reach a consensus on the top three players, who will then earn a Skull of Luci and a position on the council.
How does one play The Monument Game?
From August 21st to 24th, the primary artwork will be auctioned on Nifty Gateway, using an on-chain Manifold contract. You will see this giant painting that you can enter and look around. You will need to buy a ticket to place a marker and leave an observation. Concurrently, 256 tickets, allowing observation submissions, will also be up for sale on Nifty. The first observation will be from PTM, a notable collector who secured this privilege from a previous Christie’s auction.
After the four-day observation window, the game and auction close, and tickets are minted into NFTs with their observations written into the metadata. Nifty Gateway has built a special secondary market exclusively for The Monument Game where you can read all the observations. Subsequently, The Council starts its deliberations. Over the next week and a half, two voting rounds will determine the most impactful observations. The selected finalists are then published, and a final vote in unison by the council determines the winners.
If you have given a piece of yourself to this project and you’ve shared some unique variable, some part of your life that is reflected and refracted through the art. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what the council is looking for. You must also hold on to your observation to win The Monument Game. Selling it forfeits potential council membership and the accompanying Skull of Luci.
Are you gunning for this? I love treating art, observation, and life as a friendly competition. I think that we get stronger when we are pushed. I want people to run like wolves with each other. I want them to like nip at each other’s heels and attempt to come out ahead. What I enjoy most about art is doing that against myself, finding other artists that are so inspiring and creative, and letting what they’ve put out into the world feed me and fire me up to go further and see what else I’m capable of. Within The Monument game’s boundaries, it is my grandest hope that people play well and play to win.
What artwork are you showing at The Gateway: Korea?
The Monument Game introduces an element called the “ticket,” or the “edition,” which is the “Player.” With an edition size of 256, each will be named as Player One, Player Two, and so on. This piece will be showcased in Korea. If “The Monument Game” is the most zoomed-out and intricate painting, “Player” is a very intimate and personal piece that connects on top of it. I wanted my first edition work to fit everything else I’ve made. It signals what it’s like to take that thing that used to only be for a few people and share it.
If I had to connect this to what you guys are trying to do, I think we are all very curious about whether we have stumbled into the exact group of people that will always be here. The roster is done. This was a beautiful time in life. We all experienced some wins and some pain. This technology may outlive it, but whatever this current iteration of it is, it stays within this zone. It only surrenders to being in that zone if no one bothers to try to build things to get it out of it. So that requires building projects, artwork, and platforms that promote the best ideals, but also requires people like you pushing into areas that are ripe for understanding this, that already have all of the ingredients, the love, the appreciation for art, games, creativity, and do it. The same way you would in Miami, right? The same way you would anywhere else. This will be the furthest away I’ve ever seen my art displayed. So I’m very curious to see what people make of my angsty, pale blue Australopithecus in Korea. But if life and this space are any indication, I think we share pretty much everything in common, and the country is irrelevant.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
Watch or listen to our podcast episode with Sam Spratt for the full and uncut interview.
When the history books are written about the current digital renaissance, Beeple’s place is already secure.
Mike Winkelmann’s landmark $69.3 million sale at Christie’s in 2021 was more than just a watershed moment for the NFT space, it was a clarion call on the value of digital culture that shook the foundations of the very institutions that had long ignored it.
Every bit as outrageous and memetic as the artist’s work itself, the auction elevated Beeple as one of the three highest-selling living artists and kicked off a game-changing bull run that brought unique digital assets into the mainstream limelight.
An unlikely figurehead for the movement as a crypto newcomer, Winkelmann has nevertheless remained at the forefront of the Web3 space, chronicling the frenetic highs and lows in his iconic Everydays series and opening Beeple Studios in his native Charleston, S.C. earlier this year to bridge the URL and IRL worlds for the community.
For the 100th episode of the nft now podcast, we welcomed Beeple for an epic hour-long conversation covering a wide range of topics, including how he covers bad actors in his Everydays, exhibiting at The Gateway: Korea, and what’s inspiring him in Web3.
Matt Medved: Beeple on the nft now podcast, 100 episodes! We finally did it.
Beeple: We did it. There it is. One hundo. Congrats dude. That’s a lot. Who was the first one?
The first one was Aeforia back in April 2021. So we’ve done one hundred episodes, that’s almost two years worth as we do it weekly.
Wow, that’s crazy! You guys have definitely done a lot in this space, like [The Gateway] at Art Basel. I was blown away. It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is like a f**king city here. Jesus Christ.’ I’m definitely looking forward to Korea.
We’re excited to have you there. We see the Asian market as primed to be a major player in the next cycle. What’s your perspective on Web3 and the Asian market?
I think it will be a massive market moving forward because it’s such a digitally focused culture already. I look at the amount of things that they do on their phones. During COVID, they had all these protocols and checked in all these places. They have a more advanced infrastructure. They send more payments and are more digitally literate, so I think this stuff will appeal to them more naturally. Fandom in Asia is just on another level. It’s evidenced by the fact that the two most popular IP franchises in the world are Pokemon and Hello Kitty. When they like something, they really like that thing.
Have you been to Korea before?
I was there for like 40 hours once in 2011. I did concert visuals for Big Bang, a K-pop group there… I brought the whole family to Seoul for the show, but it was just for one weekend, so I’m very excited to get a proper experience and viewing of the city here.
That is a good question. (laughs) I believe we’re showing the double Everydays box. It’s a kinetic sculpture, similar to Human One, but it’s smaller and two boxes. They’re counter-rotating and have a compilation of all of the Everydays from 2022. So a lot is going on.
I think those sculptures show digital art in a way where anybody can enjoy it, there’s nothing to get… I like finding those experiences where people can see something physically that shows them the craft of digital art because I think it’s hard for people to see that. Many people think, “Oh, you just press two buttons and blah, blah.” But when they see something more detailed with a ton of information where there’s no other way it could be generated other than just sitting down at the computer and making these images, I think it clicks for them that this is a medium, just like any other artistic medium.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about digital art and the NFT space you still encounter?
It’s tough because there are a lot of legitimate critiques. A lot of people still think this is completely a gambling thing. That’s sort of the first thing that we need to overcome. We overcome that by putting out very thoughtful and meaningful work, where you are conceptually thinking through the project’s full life. So that, hopefully, people either know what they’re getting into or know that they don’t know what they’re getting into. I think people need to be more honest about it. I think there is so much speculation in the market, and that is such a big piece of it that it’s tough trying to find that balance between that mode of thinking and the artistic side because it all exists on a spectrum.
I know we’re still early because we still talk about NFTs as a category rather than a new medium transcending every category with different creative and consumer priorities. Once the market matures, I hope we won’t apply the same expectations to every project.
100%. I think it will. I think you will start to see more segmentation. I think you’re beginning to see that with people discussing PFPs as its category a lot more. That will happen even more as more use cases come into play. “Okay, this is clearly a gaming token, this is clearly a utility token.” But what makes it tough and exciting is that there’s so much crossover between these things. We’re only two years into a lot of people in society having the idea that virtual objects can have value. Not even everybody in society even agrees upon that yet. They definitely will in the future as use cases open up for them that make sense to them.
The Gateway is inspired by the idea of a glimpse into the future where physical and digital co-exist in creative harmony. I know there’s an element of that in Beeple Studios as well. Tell us about the vision there.
Yeah, I want to bring people together to have communal experiences around digital art. We had 50 artists that we exhibited work from all over the world. The studio is set up in a space where we make works like Human One. We also have a white wall gallery space and then a more digital experiential space with screens and projectors covering all the areas. What’s interesting to me is finding a way to make digital art something where we’re all experiencing the same thing simultaneously because that’s not how we normally experience digital art. We’ve got something coming up pretty quickly here that we’ll announce that will be another fun way to utilize the space and engage with different communities. We want this space to be something in which the entire NFT community utilizes and can find value.
One thing I liked about your studio opening was the live Everyday. It took a process that most people don’t often have visibility into and turned into a shared experience that gave people some insight into what goes into making digital art. What’s the story there?
So I started doing talks in 2015 at design conferences. But I only had one talk, and it was just about Everydays and I never did another PowerPoint presentation. It wasn’t a huge community, so I just started doing the Everyday live at these conferences. It would be this more participatory thing where I’d call on audience members like, “Okay, you, what should we put in the thing? Okay, what kind of clouds should the clouds look like?” People would just be shouting shit at me, and it was always really fun.
I wanted to do that same thing with the space here. But what we ended up doing was even more than that, I would actually produce 50 separate works during that one hour. Every time I hit this button, it would save a part of my screen, upload it to the NFT, and then send it to the ceiling printers where we were dropping prints.
On a higher level, this idea of digital art being a performance is also new in a way. Most digital art before the last 20 years was generative because you had to write a program if you wanted to make it. There was no Photoshop, no After Effects, or Cinema 4D. All these tools we have are relatively new. They take a lot of time in these movies costing 200 million dollars, but that’s just a bunch of dorks like me sitting and rendering buildings exploding… Trying to make something with those tools in a very short time has many interesting performative aspects to it. Especially because you can see exactly what I’m doing, which makes it more like painting.”
When introducing your Everydays work, I’ve compared it to being a political cartoonist for internet culture. It’s chronicling what’s happening in this space and capturing the zeitgeist. Does that resonate with you?
That is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to capture what is going on in the space, but sometimes people mistake that for me endorsing. Or they think that just giving attention to certain things in the space that neither of us likes is not good. To me, that seems like kind of a very elitist attitude, to be honest, because it’s like, “I understand this, and I’m not gonna buy this.” More specifically, this recently came up as there’s been a number of bad actors in the space who shall remain nameless where I have chronicled their doings. The purpose of that is not to boost them, even though I know this might inadvertently boost them, but it is to document this culture and what is happening in it so that we have some record artistically of what happened here.
It has to capture the attention of everybody or minimally a large portion of people before it seems like something that I should make a piece about. Sometimes there are things where it’s like, “Oh goddamnit, I don’t wanna do this, but everybody’s talking about it.” So I feel somewhat obligated to chime in. It’s like the news reporting on something negative happening. That’s not an endorsement. That’s just what’s going on.
Web3 is an attention economy that thrives off of engagement, especially with the creator monetization on Twitter (now known as X). There’s the concept that there’s no such thing as bad press.
Yeah, I don’t think that’s the case though. I think many things can be bad press where it’s not bringing good attention to you.
I think what may drive that mentality is people being like, “It’s an attention economy, so they’re getting attention. It’s like oxygen.” But you also have to document the times.
But that’s the thing, it assumes that people will automatically buy into their projects if they get attention. People have to make the conscious choice to buy into this crap. If you see a picture from me portraying this project negatively, and you’re like, “Gotta buy into it. I wasn’t gonna, but now that I saw that f**king giant poop emoji, this seems like a solid buy.” Come on, you were gonna f**king buy into this crap. You were looking for any reason to buy into this shit. People are dumb, but you’re not that dumb if you can buy a f**king sh*tcoin. It’s quite complicated. Let’s be very honest here. You know what it is, and you know you shouldn’t be buying sh*tcoins, but you are buying sh*tcoins because you’re f**king greedy. That’s all it f**king is. If you’re an adult and you wanna do that, that’s fine, but don’t blame that on my f**king picture.
It is funny that this is where we’re at in the cycle, where sh*tcoins and memecoins drive the discourse.
We circle back around. Yeah, it’s definitely very odd. This is my first go at the rodeo because I was not in crypto before. So I honestly find all this sh*tcoin stuff to be fascinating because it’s something very new to me. I thought NFTs were gambling, and this is a whole other thing. Especially because it’s so much on the whim of these rando dudes… so it’s like gambling on when these dudes will f*ck everybody over. It’s so bizarre how these communities form with people jumping on Twitter and pumping these sorts of crazy things. And then it’s onto the next thing. To me, it’s fascinating as this weird kind of bleeding edge case of crypto that I think is something worth making art about that hopefully people will look back and be like, “Wait, what the *uck does this mean?” Because it’s so coded too. It’s like so many of these things are like memes upon memes upon memes upon memes. It’s this crazy and complex culture that is very hard for the outside world to understand what these people are doing, how they’re gambling on these things, and how these economies work.
Yeah, it’s like a new level of degeneracy.
It is. I mean, that’s probably the easiest way to say it.
What have you been seeing during this period that’s inspiring you?
I look at Jack [Butcher] and what he’s doing with Checks and Opepen, and I think it’s super interesting. I’m really excited to see where that goes. What Refik [Anadol] is doing in the museum world is really cool, and I think he’s really bringing in people and making it something very obvious to people. What Snowfro is doing with generative art is super interesting and something that he’s truly passionate about educating people on. I thought the Vera Molnar auction they just did was awesome to see and such a massive moment.
At the end of the day, what will get us out of this bear market is when the amount of demand for NFTs outpaces the supply. So it really needs to be about strengthening communities, showing people the true value in this outside of the speculative stuff, and finding the people who care about that.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
For the full and uncut interview, watch or listen to our podcast episode with Beeple.
If we’re in a bear market, digital fashion didn’t get the memo.
Leading luxury fashion houses like Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Valentino have all made significant moves in the fast-growing space over the past year. Meanwhile, a new generation of digitally-native brands is helping hoist the torch for the burgeoning movement, which is poised to continue expanding its influence within the $1.7 trillion fashion industry.
Founded in 2018 by Daria Shapovalova and Natalia Modenova, DressX is a leading digital fashion retailer that has partnered with likes of Bershka, H&M, Rebecca Minkoff, and DUNDAS, and recently raised a $15 million series A round led by Greenfield with participation from Slow Ventures, Warner Music, Red DAO, The Artemis Fund, and more.
In a forward-looking nft now podcast interview, the DressX co-founders dive into why fashion’s elite are entering Web3, what luxury brands are doing right and wrong in the space, and the future of metaverse adoption and digital identity.
Matt Medved:Digital fashion has a ton of potential to drive mainstream Web3 adoption. How did you two find your way into this space?
Daria Shapovalova: The first of August is when the company turns three years old. We come from a fashion background. I was a journalist. I had my TV show in fashion. I interviewed all the designers, celebrities, and many people from the industry.
I was traveling to all the fashion weeks. Paris always felt like a second home because fashion week happens here every quarter. Then I started fashion work in Ukraine. We’re both from Ukraine, so it became the largest one in Eastern Europe. And we already started to work together. Natalia was the chief operating officer of Fashion Week. In 2013, we started a showroom in Paris where we sold the clothes of contemporary designers to the largest stores worldwide. It was physical fashion.
So, we knew a lot about the industry before entering space. I started my career in fashion when I was 17. And that’s why we came with like a bit of knowledge of how the industry is built and who is creating it. We knew some people in the traditional fashion industry, which gave us a little bit of leverage and connections.
Six years ago, I relocated to San Francisco and did my MBA there because the big idea was what could be done for the fashion industry is to move it into the future and help it scale in the new domain, which is definitely tech. And that’s exactly how, three years ago, DressX was born.
What’s the vision for DressX?
Natalia Modenova: DressX is the meta closet. It’s your wardrobe of digital-only fashion, AR looks, and wearable NFTs, as well as your avatar skins. And this is a go-to destination to start your journey into digital fashion and to really change your outfit for your digital presence in the metaverse, social media, 3D social media, and gaming environment. So we can call it different ways, but basically, that’s your wardrobe for your online presence.
Who is purchasing digital fashion? What do you think the evolution of that consumer base will look like in the future?
Daria: Millions of people. Because we sold already over a million items on various platforms, including DressX and other Web2 and Web3 platforms. It’s important to mention that as of now because we really need to acquire this habit of users having digital wardrobes. It’s important to be present in both Web2 and Web3 environments.
So, we definitely work a lot with Web3 companies, but DressX is a brand. It’s also present in Roblox, for example, which is not blockchain powered, as of now. But for us, it’s really important to face different audiences because answering your question, who is buying digital fashion in Roblox, it’s the generation of eight to 15 years old and they’re already acting as investors because it’s an opportunity to purchase limited items.
Obviously, the DressX NFT marketplace is a very different audience. We believe in the adoption of digital fashion, and we definitely believe that here it makes total sense when it’s powered by blockchain, when the provenance is there, and when the items can be resold. But in order to acquire the habits of every person owning digital wardrobes in terms of the physical wardrobes, we need to face different generations from different environments and kind of create together and educate them.
What were some of the most significant releases or moments that helped move the needle forward to establish DressX?
Natalia: That’s a good question. I think the whole start of DressX as a platform was definitely this moment because for us, from day one, it was important to have a wearable aspect to digital fashion even if it existed in beautiful renders and inspirational images. We wanted to really give an opportunity to start wearing digital fashion in different formats.
And the first one was dressing up for social media. Then we expanded into the second use case of augmented reality fashion and creating your looks in real-time. And for videos, it coincided with a time when all the social media were kind of driven by video formats like TikTok and Reels. And of course, expansion into the avatar fashion through Roblox, which is a huge platform and a big retailer.
Of course, the big launch of the Meta avatar store was also a milestone. They made a lot of noise introducing the whole concept of the metaverse to their wider audience when they renamed the company. And when they introduced the avatar store with three brands — Balenciaga, Prada, and Tom Brown — it was a big validation that the fashion and digital worlds are coinciding. And DressX was the first ever digital-only brand to be introduced on the platform and now has the largest number of items in the avatar store.
And of course the launch of our nft.dressx.com platform where every single item, every single NFT has a wearable utility.
What are some examples of fashion brands that have entered the space and really done it right?
Daria: I think Tommy Hilfiger did a great job by being present and doing a lot of different activities in various environments. That’s really a good move. We know a few brands will enter this new domain, but we can’t talk about that now. But that will be good and something to watch.
But Gucci, of course, they were doing a great job. And everything that they did, starting from Gucci Vault, that was more online commerce, but that’s already so focused on digital and the new generation and how they took it into the space with NFTs. That was amazing.
Obviously, Dolce & Gabbana did a great job. They know how to do haute couture and did a great haute couture NFT sale. It was a big push in the industry and it was an important moment.
Let’s dig into the idea of the metaverse. When we talk about the metaverse, what does that mean to you? How are you both personally and professionally preparing for it?
Daria: To be honest, we think that the metaverse already exists, even in social media. When we post pictures of ourselves on Instagram, let’s say, and when we’re present on social media on a daily basis, it’s kind of a pre-metaverse. We’re already a digital version of ourselves.
When we go to Instagram or any other social media, we post our pictures, it’s kind of a little bit different from who we are in reality. And that’s exactly like a part of the metaverse that already touches everyone.
And the opportunity that, for example, Snapchat or Instagram or TikTok give us, that we can become celebrities or we can create our avatars and dress them and appear there as our digital selves. It’s the precursor of that metaverse that we envision as being a totally different reality where we can live and exist. Yes, it’s still not there, but the first sign of this future world we can already use on a daily basis.
We understand it won’t be built in one day. But that’s what’s so great about humanity. We sometimes think about something way long term, and we understand it’s not here, but let’s prepare for this future. Let’s build it together. The more people build it, the faster this future will come.
What excites you most about the future of digital fashion?
Natalia: I think it’s the new forms it may take regarding creative expression. Because definitely, in the core of every fashion brand, the creative director, their creative vision, and the creative people with new tools will definitely bring some results that are not predictable, that cannot be AI Midjourney generated. It’s just a new tool for creativity, which is amazing.
And of course, it’s this new digital economy that reveals that it is growing because it has a huge potential. So, just like the economy has been shifting from real industries into the service industries into the digital industry. I think the digital economy will be very fascinating and new and that’s what excites me a lot.
Daria: What excites me is the billions of digital items we will sell as DressX. That excites me most of all.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
For the full and uncut interview, listen to our podcast episode with DressX.
The multidisciplinary artist has never lent himself well to labels, exploring his quirky creative vision through the lenses of music, film, and stop-motion animation with projects like Run Ed. Now it’s time to add generative art to the list.
His new project, Beauty Supply Is Out of Du-Rags, released this week on the newly-launched Prohibition platform, explores the complex cultural legacy of Black hairstyles through algorithmic code. Billed as “the first on-chain generative art project featuring braids and locs,” the collection represents a deeply personal and cathartic moment of expression based on Balloon’s own experiences.
“The du-rag is a way of hiding, but you don’t have it, so you have to let the world see and accept you for who you are,” he explains. “That is the statement that I’m making.”
In a conversational nft now podcast interview, Ed Balloon dives into his vision for the project, the state of music NFTs, and the importance of uplifting artists of color.
Matt Medved: You’re a multidisciplinary creator who thinks in terms of moving images, art, and music. How did NFTs change the creative canvas for you?
Ed Balloon: It gave me so much more flexibility. I think outside of Web3 as artists you’re like: okay, do a video, do a song, then cover art— it’s very linear. When I came into Web3, it was like, no. It allowed me to see it as a place where I can create, be honest, and disrupt. I never really looked at making stuff like that when it came to music until I came to this space. Having conversations and just seeing other people create helped me visually to see “maybe I would wanna tap into that.”
I always wanted to make sure that in the Web3 space, people knew that I was a musician and performer. People didn’t really know. They knew about the puppet, and they knew about the visual stop motion thing, but they didn’t know that I also was a musician, even though I would say, “Hey, I’m a musician, but I also do this, right?” So I felt like I had to do something.
To end “Fuck Around And Find Out” day … I decided to drop my genesis on superare. it is a music nft that pays homage to black hair. This piece also was inspired by the legend @yatreda who was one of the first artist in the space who beautifully brought light to African hair con pic.twitter.com/4llag7Xp0X
As a musician yourself, what’s your take on the state of Web3 music? What do you think it’ll take to bring this ecosystem to the next level?
It’s weird because I feel like it’s right there and it’s always dismissed. IRL concerts, ticketing — easy. But there is this thing about making sure that folks understand what’s happening in the culture. For me, I came into music with the idea of a bunch of us disrupting what we knew, what we saw, what we thought we knew, the patterns, and stuff like that.
Coming into Web3, I’m seeing the difficulties of just people not really understanding music as an entity and having to teach that. It is something where I’m like, “How do I find ways to have conversations and just be like you like music? Dope. You like visual art? Cool. Maybe we need to blend it too sometimes.”
Maybe that’s a way to have those who are here understand getting a collectible, but also see it as something like fine art as well. Music hasn’t even been looked at, to me, to my knowledge, as something that’s fine art. So I feel like even being in Web3 allows us the flexibility to be able to not only be this one thing.
Gm if you haven’t minted yet – pieces are still available
Tell us the vision behind your newest project on Prohibition.
It’s going to be one of the first projects that is actually going to display box braids and locs on the chain.
I had done a drop on SuperRare called, Trap Balls on a Loc Tree. It was a music piece and I was using my locs, and I manipulated it in a way where it was like a tree branch and I had these balls on it, and it was really cool. I loved it. I had a few people asking me questions regarding that. It was in a way where there was a disconnect there. That kind of triggered me. But I didn’t really want to talk about it.
I’m afraid to talk about it because I’m not sure how it’s gonna be looked at. As a Black dude, as a Black artist, it’s always a very difficult fine line between what you can talk about and what you can’t talk about. I was afraid, and I wasn’t too sure why. But I did know from these conversations, I found myself kind of triggered.
It brings me back to a lot of times growing up people said “Hey, you need to shave your hair, or you can’t have your locs, or you’re not going to get that job, or you’re not going to be able to do this, you’re not going to be able to do that.” What I found so odd was that hearing these things brought me back to that place from these conversations in this ecosystem. We have PFPs of animals wearing durags and I’m like, “Oh did we not know that durags are actually here for hair protection?” There’s a disconnect there.
So this project, I was like, “How do I talk about this now?’ I said, “We’re going to code box braids and locs and we’re gonna put these bad boys on the blockchain.” My goal is to make sure that we’re showcasing the beauty when it comes to our hair, the art that goes through it, the process, and the time. Sometimes when we get our hair done, it hurts. People don’t understand that. I wanna showcase the colors, but also how you feel dope and fresh when it’s done. It’s these beautiful things that I was trying to bring to life through this project. This is art to us as well. We love the designs that we make with them. We love how they sway in the wind. This is us and accept us for us.
Oh my goodness!! the ED RUN COLLECTION IS TAKING OFF!! Oh my gosh ! Welcome new members to the fam!!! FYI – 50 percent of secondary sales go to buying art form underrepresented artists in the space !
What is the mission of The Ed Balloon Generational Wealth Fund?
I really want to be able to be in a position where I can buy art from artists of color, specifically Black artists in this space, because unfortunately, it’s still very difficult for artists of color to sell their art. So I [decided] I need to find a way where I can have this fund that goes to support that.
I felt like this was a way also to be an example for other projects that want to incorporate this because I wasn’t seeing that. It’s something that I still champion and try to do as much as I can with it. I also still try to give visibility to the artists that we do collect as much as I can with my platform.
What’s your spicy takeon the NFT space?
Maybe it’s not that spicy, but I still think a lot of platforms don’t know how to move in this space currently. They’re doing things that have already been done, assuming that it’s going to help them. But, that only traps them, because the space is always changing. If you’re not able to have your own vision, then you’re not gonna be able to move with this space. My goal is to help but I feel like a lot of times they’re not trying to go to artists, which is weird because we are the voices of reasoning and we have a lot of the vision.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
For the full and uncut interview, listen to our podcast episode with Ed Balloon.
If you’ve asked yourself this question in the past six months, you’re not alone. The rapid rise of the Bitcoin Ordinals ecosystem has enthralled developers, divided the Bitcoin community, and reintroduced the original blockchain to a new generation of users.
In May, Bitcoin became the second-largest blockchain for NFTs with sales volume passing the likes of Solana and Polygon. Even Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has hailed Ordinals as an “organic return of builder culture” to Bitcoin.
Ninjalerts CEO Trevor Owens has been a fixture on the movement’s frontlines, investing in Bitcoin projects as a GP for Bitcoin Frontier Fund and covering all things Ordinals as a co-host for nft now’s Not Financial Advice Twitter Space every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30 pm ET.
In an informative nft now podcast interview, Owens breaks down what Ordinals are, why they matter, and what he’s building using the protocol.
Matt Medved: Everyone has a unique story about how they got into the space. What’s yours?
Trevor Owens: I’ve been a founder for a decade and a developer in the web2 space. I became interested in Bitcoin in 2013, but I was more enthusiastic about blockchain technology than necessarily the coin itself. I’m very practical, and my specialty is go-to-market strategies. I spent a decade coaching founders in the lean startup methodology. I worked with Eric Reese; you’ll see my name in the thank you section of his book.
The space took a long time to mature, and it wasn’t until 2021 that I noticed a tipping point where I saw Metamask, OpenSea, and Uniswap. At this point, I recognized that the technology that I always thought was promising was here in full force.
I’d known the founders of Stacks for a long time, being one of their first advisors. When they launched Stacks 2.0, I connected with them. They wanted me to manage their ecosystem venture fund. So, I raised a small fund of four million. Recently, we closed a second round, raising about six to seven million. To date, we’ve made 50 investments across the Bitcoin ecosystem.
I’m also an angel investor in a bunch of different various startups like nft now and others on the ETH side as well. I’ve spent a lot of time working with zero-to-one companies, and now I do that professionally at the Bitcoin Frontier Fund. Our focus has expanded from Stacks to Ordinals more broadly.
I’m also the CEO of Ninjalerts, an Ethereum analytics trading tool for NFT users that gives you the best push notifications and alerts when things happen on the blockchain. I’m living the dual life of a builder and an investor.
Let’s jump right into Ordinals. It’s been amazing to watch the growth of that ecosystem in such a short amount of time. People are still trying to wrap their heads around it. How would you explain Bitcoin Ordinals to your grandmother?
I would describe it to my grandmother as a way to permanently record data in any form and also a way that makes a certificate of authentication — similar to NFTs — for that data to track ownership on Bitcoin.
The really innovative thing about Ordinals is that all data is on-chain, and it’s much more inexpensive than having a smart contract. Which is important for a chain like Bitcoin, where it is very expensive and block space is limited.
It’s a way to record any type of media, and you can also build new kinds of Web3 applications that are also different from how Ethereum applications are structured. That leads to some interesting use cases and ergonomics that actually make decentralized coordination a little bit easier.
We’re seeing things that people tried to do on Ethereum that I think are objectively good ideas but were limited by the structure of having smart contracts and a solidity EVM. By just inscribing the raw data, it’s a little bit easier, and that’s the fascinating thing.
It’s been interesting to see the various types of inscriptions, whether it’s a photo, music, or something else, directly on Bitcoin, which wasn’t possible before. How did we get here, and why do you think this is so transformative?
We got here kind of by accident. In 2017, SegWit was introduced, which was an upgrade to Bitcoin that created something called the segregated witness. A normal Bitcoin block has something like a one-megabyte limit, but in the witness area of the transaction, you can fit up to an additional three megabytes. So, In total, you can have four megabytes per block.
And in addition, that area of the inscription is actually discounted by 75 percent. It still ends up fitting one megabyte within the Bitcoin block, but since it’s a total of four, 75 percent is like one megabyte. So, the data is actually stored differently than the rest of the transaction.
That kind of opened up this avenue for really inexpensive permanent data storage in a way that, if you do the math in terms of how much it would cost you to have a Dropbox account for life or run an Amazon Web Services Server for life, there’s no way you can get data storage this cheap in a permanent way.
An amazing Bitcoin dev named Casey Rodarmor was a contributor to Bitcoin core over the years, and he’s considered one of the top Bitcoin developers in the world. He was working on this project for two years. Casey is a very unique individual. He was born from the Bitcoin community and fits in with some of the “laser eye” maximalists we like to dunk on.
He was always an instigator and liked to break the rules, and he had development skills and a deep understanding of how Bitcoin works. He spent two years working on Ordinals and Inscriptions. Ordinals refers to Ordinal theory, which is the way that we actually turn Bitcoin or pieces of Bitcoin, Satoshis, into non-fungible tokens that are trackable and tradable throughout the blockchain.
On January 20 this year, it just took off like a rocket. It was also the perfect timing. We were just coming back from FTX, and that cascade and we were at a low in the market. It was something that violated all the narratives in the space.
Then you had Udi Wertheimer dropping a four-megabyte Bitcoin block, which was the largest Bitcoin block ever done. I think the real reason it succeeded among the Bitcoin community. Where other innovations have failed or have been attacked by the immune system, so to say, of the Bitcoin Maxi community was because Ordinals are not only a cool use case for a lot of users, but it increased the fees on Bitcoin.
When you have two people fighting for moral authority, in Bitcoin, whoever pays is in the position of superior moral authority. The idea is, if you don’t like it, you should pay more. Paying directly to the miners is contributing to the security of Bitcoin. Eventually, the security subsidy on Bitcoin is going to be gone, and it will need to survive the security budget generated by fees.
But historically, fees have been so low on Bitcoin that it’s been an open-ended question. How are we going to make sure Bitcoin is viable in the long term from people paying enough to support the security and decentralization of the network? Ordinals kind of came in and provided that answer.
While many of the Bitcoin Maxis tried to cancel Ordinals, it only made it stronger. We have had hundreds of developers pour into the space. We’ve had a ton of infrastructure, like marketplaces, wallets, explorers, and other tools, developed that just didn’t exist four months ago.
I think whenever there’s a new and exciting ecosystem, there’s a perceived barrier to entry. How can people get started with Bitcoin Ordinals?
The first step would be to get a Bitcoin web wallet similar to Metamask. The most popular one right now is Xverse. I’m an investor. You can also check out Hiro, which is an investor in my fund, and UniSat. Those are the top three.
They offer a few different things, but they’re pretty similar. And then, there’s multiple marketplaces. So there’s Magic Eden, Gamma, Ordinals Wallet, and Ordswap. And go and get an Ordinal. Or inscribe. One of the coolest things about Ordinals is that you don’t need to launch a smart contract to make an Ordinal.
The whole system is easier than any NFT marketplace storefront. Some of the wallets have their own inscription service embedded in them, and you can just drag and drop a file, like a JPEG or an MP3, pay a Bitcoin fee, and boom, it’s forever recorded on Bitcoin. As long as Bitcoin survives, it’s going to be there.
There are already some quite notable Ordinals projects that have launched. In your view, what are some that the average Web3 lover should have on their radar?
One of the first notable ones, I think, was Bitcoin DeGods. That was a very successful mint where what was originally a popular community on Solana that moved to Ethereum and Polygon inscribed a percentage of their art onto Bitcoin.
There are a lot of projects under the 1,000 mark. The earlier the Ordinal, the earlier and a little bit the more attractive they are. There’s Ord rocks, which were actually like Ether Rocks. There’s Ord Punks, which was using some of the traits of CryptoPunks, but some other traits as well, to make a bunch of CryptoPunk-like PFPs in the sub-1,000 range.
I have a colleague who has an Ordinals collection called Diamond Fingers, which is sub-10,000, which are these like 3D middle fingers that say, ‘You can’t censor my transactions, and NFTs are fun.’ There’s Ordinal Maxi Biz, which is one of the most recently successful and hyped projects. There’s On-Chain Monkey, which is another really good one.
And, of course, we’re doing our own project here for Ninja Alerts, which is 1,500 ninja PFPs inscribed on rare pizza sats. So, there’s a lot going on. The pace of projects is not like Ethereum, though. You have a higher barrier to entry because, most of the time, the cost of putting Ordinals on the blockchain is held by the project creator.
On Ethereum, usually you just launch the smart contract, and that costs around an ETH to do. But then all of the people who mint pay the cost of gas to mint the NFT. On Ordinals, it’s the opposite; the creator has to do all of the inscribing. So you have a higher barrier to entry, which I think means that you see a lot fewer low-effort projects launched on Ordinals.
1/ The next chapter in Ninjalerts is beginning!
We love Bitcoin Ordinals, BRC-20, Rare Sats, Recursion, and Pizza.
Pizza Ninja is the project that you’re launching with Ninja Alerts. It’s built on rare Satoshis from the Bitcoin Pizza transaction. Tell us a little bit about the project.
Trevor: I think the cool thing about rare sats is that it allows you to do more creative storytelling. So, project creators are now able to combine the medium with which they’re doing their art, the Satoshi, with the art or the story of the art that they’re trying to do.
Pizza sats are not as rare as the uncommon or rare sats. However, it’s a very historic transaction. It goes back to the first verified Bitcoin transaction ever to buy anything, which is also the first physical item. A guy named Laszlo paid somebody 10,000 Bitcoin for two Papa John’s pizzas.
It’s like a holiday every year in the Bitcoin community, the day when that transaction happened. And for people who want to get rare stats, it’s a really good entry rare sat to get. I love pizza. If you go back to like the history of civilization, a lot of historians say bread is the most important invention in human history in terms of how it formed the basis of the societal construction of families, breaking bread for reconciliation and peace.
So, with an NFT project, I think the most important thing that you want to do is try to create meaningful experiences that can bond together your community. Having a theme to tie people together. I think pizza is universally loved across all cultures. I was thinking about Ninja Alerts and pizza sats. And then, of course, the next thing you think of is Ninja Turtles.
So, we just went on this path to try and create a unique project with some amazing art that could bring together our community and also the launch of Ninja Alerts on Ordinals on Bitcoin. On Ninja Alerts, we provide some of the best NFT analytics and alerts for Ethereum. Of course, we want to move into Ordinals. So, we decided to do this project to help curate our community and help get the word out.
We’ve been asking people to make videos on Twitter where they will record themselves eating pizza while wearing a Ninja costume. This is like a hat tip to Udi Wertheimer, who did this with Taproot Wizards.
We’re getting videos every single day. It’s just been a super fun experience. The way you actually try to distribute the opportunity to participate to those early holders is one of the most important decisions that you have. Being able to select the people who care the most, I think, is going to be the most important sign of long-term health for a project.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
For the full and uncut interview, listen to our podcast episode with Trevor Owens.
The art world veteran has his hands in just about everything, from curating exhibits and creating his own art to lecturing at the University of Zurich and writing for Artnet and New York Magazine. Schachter has never shied away from sharing his often-controversial opinions and has emerged as a somewhat unlikely advocate for NFTs within the traditional art world.
That’s not to say he supports everything happening in the space. From his hot takes on creator royalties (“F*cking stupid”) to PFPs (“A series of 10,000 pieces of crap that were mainly admitted for stealing money purposes”) and the metaverse (“A pejorative, horrific thing”), it’s clear that Schachter is happy to throw shade across both the digital and physical realms.
In an unvarnished nft now podcast interview, Schachter discusses what’s broken in the traditional art world, what he loves about NFTs, and his new Open Book project in collaboration with Async Art.
Matt Medved: Let’s set the stage for those who may not be familiar with your work. What’s your background?
Kenny Schachter: First, I would like to say that I’m a huge fan of nft now, and I’ve been involved in the traditional art world for over 30 years. And every day in those 30 years, there are certain websites that I wake up looking at to launch my day for information about the field, and you are the preeminent one.
I’m completely self-taught in art. I studied philosophy, and I went to law school with zero intention of practicing law. I always gravitated towards the creative way of thinking and living. And I never was even aware that there was a commercial side to art. I call myself an idiot-idiot savant because I never went to galleries or museums as a child, I only started going when I was in college.
I went to the east wing of the National Gallery and saw works from Andy Warhol and Basquiat, and it registered in my subconscious. I ended up in the fashion business and stumbled into Sotheby’s estate sale of Andy Warhol at the end of the 80s. And I was flabbergasted.
He was a hoarder in the extreme. There were all of these crazy things — Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and John Michel Basquiat paintings that were literally 25 grand a pop in 1988. I was immediately smitten, so I wanted to have a life in art.
Then I decided I need to learn art history. I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to school, I conned my way into a teaching job. I was hired to teach six classes on probation, and then the dean who hired me left, and I was a professor of art. So, I started curating shows, often as a context to include my own artwork, which I began making simultaneously in the late 80s.
To answer your question, I write about the art world and NFTs, and I make art, and I’m a lecturer and a professor at the University of Zurich School of Visual Art, NYU, and various other universities.
THE FIRST EVER (?) NFT FURNITURE! THE NFTism STOOL – 33 uniquely colored variants premiering at Keep Hope Alive, my solo exhibit at the Francisco Carolinum Linz, Austria September 5th, 2023 pic.twitter.com/TYLcL9McLQ
When you first entered the NFT space, you started out skeptical, as many do, but have since become a supporter of the tech. What changed?
When I was in law school, I got an IBM desktop with a floppy disk. I was never a technologist from the practical level of coding programming, but I appreciate technology in the same way I appreciate art, which is culturally speaking.
For me, the cultural manifestation of how technology impacts our everyday life is what drew me in. I was always making art. I made giant computer prints in the 90s that I would augment with painting and employing digital video methodologies when there was little digital cassettes before strictly digital cameras. So, when I found out about those three letters, I immediately caught on to it. I did a mint with Nifty Gateway in 2020. And I have to say, I’m probably one of the few people that got involved with NFTs as a way to further nurture an audience to help communicate with. Art is self-expression and communication. That’s the function or the use case for art, if you can call it that.
I wasn’t looking for money. I would put these short narrative, satirical videos embedded into my writing because no galleries would show my work and I had zero market for it. I’m one of these like sacrilegious things in the art world. I have a big mouth. I’m compelled to call out the hypocrisy of which the art world has its own brand of.
I got involved with NFTs in the beginning because I made digital art and no one else would take me seriously as an artist. It took me 20 years to be taken seriously as a writer. So I just did it as a way to further my reach as an artist. The crypto world doesn’t dismiss you and doesn’t have its head stuck up its own ass to the same extent that the art world does.
Now that i’m on a cheesy reality tv show (Hirschhorn Museum’s “The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist” premiering March 3 on MTV & the 7th on the Smithsonian network) I caved in and, like Madonna, admit to having some work done… pic.twitter.com/lByrzC8IVY
As you say, you’ve never been afraid to speak out about the hypocrisy of the art world. What do you feel is most broken about the traditional art world right now?
I coined this stupid word called NFTism. And for me, it was exactly what we discussed so far. If anyone listening to this sends me a DM on Twitter or on Instagram, I will get back to everyone, mostly within 24 hour period.
The art world knows one word, no. You can’t say this, do that, behave like this. When I began in the art world professionally, there was a terrible recession. The notion of selling contemporary art for significant sums of money wasn’t even a hope in our minds.
There was never contemporary art by Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, in an art auction until 1996. So, the art market is so myopic, it has such a narrow way of doing things. And success affirms success. What I find is most broken about the art world is that no one gives a fuck about art. People want to talk about money. And that’s it. It’s so reductive.
Art has been proven to have medicinal attributes, to reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and depression. It makes your life better. What’s broken in the old world is that the ear has become the most prominent organ, where people just want what their friends have. They want to show people social clout. The equivalent is owning a Punk or an Ape. And I think that I missed the conversations, I miss the community of like-minded people that like to share ideas and help each other.
You would think that the art world would be looking for the next audience to drive consumption. And let’s be realistic, the art market is fueled by white rich old men. That’s the majority of the entire market. Over the past 10 years, there has been an enormous opening up the floodgates and opportunities for diverse artists to incrementally gain access. However, let’s not fool ourselves. Women still get pennies to the dollar in relationship to men, if you’re looking at various barometers of measuring success, which is largely galleries sales.
CRINGE! how to embarrass your family in perpetuity-Mutts for life! Join the gang and present your #cryptomutts art to receive an nft for your efforts, participation in a major exhibit in June in Zurich and the chance to win more! This will ultimately be a book too i just decided! pic.twitter.com/mFiqGzv0n1
Last year, you brought NFTs to Art Basel in Switzerland. I’m sure it was a bit of a different mood this year. What’s the temperature in the traditional art world around NFTs now that the boom has subsided?
That’s a great question. I mean, I introduced NFTs to the first art fairs ever in Art Basel of ‘21 in Switzerland. And at the last Basel, there were none. In between was Art Basel Miami, which was percolating with not just NFTs but NFT parties and crypto events. It was the buzz of the entire fair. Last Miami, a year later, there were zero. The art world goes with the wind. The minute there’s vulnerability, the art world turns its back and runs like hell.
But I don’t turn off my passion when the market shifts. At a certain level, the recession was the best cleansing that we ever could have hoped for. Because whoever’s left standing after this bear market are the people that love digital art.
Part of NFTism is that NFTs have offered the first mechanism for buying and selling digital assets. It’s a revolution, it’s a paradigm shift in human activity. I mean, David Hockney, the famous artist, who’s in his 80s, says that NFTs are for criminals.
But the joke is that he fucking makes NFTs. He sells art that is derived from an iPad drawing. And you buy it as a photograph for tens of thousands of dollars. But would you rather own a photograph from a gallery by David Hockney that originated from an iPad artwork? Or would you rather own the high res file and output it in a painting or a photograph or a video on your screen?
I love NFTs. Dynamic, transformative, smart contracts are a new form of art in a field that hasn’t much changed since it came off the wall of the cave. So, to have an NFT that changes over the course of time is an absolute fundamental shift in the history of art. For me, even though we’ve seen ebbs and flows in the general commercial side of this enterprise, I haven’t lost my enthusiasm.
It’s never going to disappear. ETH is in the ether. The genie is out of the bottle. These things make too much rational sense to ever be fundamentally affected.
Tell us a little bit about the vision for your upcoming Open Book project and what’s in store there.
There was a scholar from Cambridge University and the Courtauld Institute for History who was going to write a book on the history of NFTs. He was going to interview me and then he just said, why don’t we just co-author the book together?
And in my journalism about art and NFTs, I’m always writing about the moment and the next moment to come. So, I really dwell in reporting of what’s recently transpired, and then try to think about what’s next. So, having to write a retroactive book about the previous three years of the NFT space, I found it to be so daunting. I couldn’t do it. And then I posted on Twitter, if anyone wants to have a conversation that can be recorded about NFTs and my experience, just let me know. I had 20 interviews in two weeks with random strangers, either in Zoom or in my house. It was such a disparate group of people, all drawn together based on our shared interests of NFTs.
So, I had this idea. A book with a beginning and an end, dealing with an issue of content such as technology is irrelevant, it’s moot. Why? How could you have an end to a book where NFTs like you said before is a nascent field? The two words “open book” popped into my head because an open book is a book that doesn’t close, that doesn’t end.
“Open Book” is now LIVE! A digital book that never ends where contributions will form the core content of a small curated selection of artists and writers that will subsequently be opened to the public! Get started here: https://t.co/Jpl6hdfIMqhttps://t.co/aSzwKmoTzb
Nothing is conventional about where we are with artificial intelligence and crypto and blockchain. They should give a Nobel prize to the blockchain because nothing will ever be the same in society anymore.
Duchamp said that art shouldn’t be in a museum forever, art should have a shelf life. And it made me think, why couldn’t we do the same with the book? It’s basically reformatting or redefining the nature of what a book could be. I asked a huge variety of artists to make a few sentences about NFTism. What do you really love about NFTs? How have they positively impacted your life? But also to write something critical about the space and the technology.
Then, they were meant to do to describe NFTism and to illustrate each position with an image that represents their art. So, you’ll be able to cherry-pick your old book, you’ll be able to choose the chapters that you would like to constitute your book. And then, we’re going to turn the table around to the audience and ask them to contribute to this ongoing, never-ending dynamic of creating a book with no end.
What do you think it’ll take for the traditional art world to more fully embrace the space?
Fucking money. Money, money, money. I called Larry Gagosian, the world’s most profoundly successful art dealer two years ago and said, ‘Hey, look, I just curated an NFT show, and it doesn’t look like a computer show. It’s got sculptures and photography and installation, and it’s an NFT exhibition. Would you be amenable to me curating such a show in one of your 600 galleries spread across the world?’
And he said, I’m not that kind of gallery and slammed the phone down. A year ago, he did an NFT show with the Swiss artist Urs Fischer, who made an incredible project called Chaos. So, the art world listens to one thing: the sound of money. And that’s what it’s going to take.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
For the full and uncut interview, listen to our podcast episode with Kenny Schachter.
For one night earlier this month, the bear market felt a world away.
On June 15, digital art enthusiasts packed the Sotheby’s New York showroom for its highly-anticipated Grails Part II live auction, featuring a notable trove of generative art NFTs headlined by Dmitri Cherniak’s Ringers #879 — affectionately nicknamed “The Goose.“
The collection being put to hammer came with a checkered past. Curated by pseudonymous collector Vincent Van Dough on behalf of now-defunct hedge fund Three Arrows Capital (3AC), the artwork became ensnared in liquidation proceedings after 3AC imploded following the Terra Luna collapse.
Where many saw a potential fire sale, Sotheby’s VP and head of digital art Michael Bouhanna saw an opportunity. Crowned by The Goose’s $6.2 million sale, the evening exceeded pre-auction estimates by closing at $11 million. Across two auctions and one private sale, the Grails collection totaled $17 million — an impressive result in the depths of a market downturn.
Matt Medved: Briefly tell us about your background for those who might not know your story.How did you get into digital art and NFTs?
Michael Bouhanna: I’ve been at Sotheby’s for about eight years, mainly in Paris and London, as a Contemporary Art Specialist. So, I was in charge of looking after the business, getting expertise, pricing, and sales strategy. I got into NFTs through seeing what’s on social media and got very curious about them.
It took me some time to understand the technology behind it, and that was at the end of 2020. I discovered some conceptual artists who were doing some very interesting work. The market at that time started to pick up. So, I brought the first NFT sales to Sotheby’s in June 2021 for the Natively Digital auction.
We wanted to educate people about the different movements, and it was very successful. At that time, we achieved the record for a CryptoPunk and showed some artists who are today some of the top artists in the digital art space. We started from there, and it became a real passion for me to work in this new, innovative space.
Sotheby’s made big headlines with the second Grails auction on June 15. The auction resulted in $11 million in sales in the depths of a bear market, exceeding a lot of people’s expectations. How did Sotheby’s actually secure the opportunity to auction the assets that were originally with 3AC?
Like many, we were aware of the failure of 3AC and that their NFT collection was subject to be liquidated. The liquidators publicly announced the advancement of the liquidation, so we had the chance to contact them, and in the end, they decided to work with us for many reasons.
First of all, we specialize in selling very complex and important collections in volume, quality, and diversity. So, it was appealing to them that we could propose a global, multi-channel sale. I think our past sales really prove that it doesn’t feel like liquidation but more like a celebration of the works and artists who are in this collection.
1/ On The Goose
Going to try to cover different audiences from beginner to advanced so bear with me (some things may be obvious to some of you) pic.twitter.com/6WJrYYcU2b
We saw The Goose all over social media and people having fun meme-ing it; it was an enduring image that represented a lot. Beyond that, many notable pieces sold. What made the auction so successful, from your point of expertise?
There are many different components that came together. The first is the strategy to present a fine art sale and move away from just selling NFTs. It’s important to talk to collectors the same way we would talk about proper fine artwork.
Then there is the live art auction. It’s something important to the core of the NFT community. We offered a great live experience of a very traditional way of selling some masterpieces. It was amazing to have more than 150 people in the room, more than 20 people with the paddle ready to jump on some bids, on the phone, online. It was very vibrant and felt like a traditional sale and a market full of very passionate collectors looking to acquire some great pieces.
There’s also the celebration of generative art we’ve made through the narrative and curation of the sale. It was mainly Art Blocks works, and we can’t deny that generative art has a long history coming from the 1960s. Every time we speak about generative artwork on the blockchain, we need to put them in the context of 20th and 21st-century art history.
The real challenge was to turn the narrative from a liquidation, where many collectors thought they could get a big discount in purchasing this work, into a celebration, ensuring that we sell them for the full price in today’s market.
“I don’t think it’s a great entry point for traditional collectors to buy their first NFT for six million dollars.”
There are rumors that several of the underbidders in Sotheby’s digital art auctions have been traditional art collectors, as opposed to Web3 natives. What level of interest are you seeing from this demographic around NFTs?
There is some interest from traditional collectors, and it’s easier to introduce them to this new medium via lower-value works. I don’t think it’s a great entry point for traditional collectors to buy their first NFT for six million dollars, but that’s why also we wanted that sale to feature every price point.
Every sale like this is a new occasion to have discussions with this traditional type of collector. So, it’s a step-by-step process that we educate a bit more every time. And the ecosystem will evolve and become a bit more friendly for them. It connects to crypto in terms of value but also in terms of culture.
Part of the difficulty is understanding how they can enjoy it physically. That’s why we really try to showcase works and offer them the same aura of a proper work of art.
please delete all remaining jpgs by 5pm EST today.
Thanks to everyone who played along with our silly little nothing!! We had some laughs, sold some monkey pictures. It’s been a hell of ride folks but this is clearly the end!!! pic.twitter.com/oPCZgDsnz0
Earlier this year, Sotheby’s received criticism for its Natively Digital auction on glitch art that originally did not include women artist representation. The company subsequently relaunched the show with a more equitable lineup. What were some of the lessons learned from that?
We had done many sales before the glitch sale, and each time we were very careful in representing underrepresented communities and female artists. Two weeks before that sale, we had a sale dedicated to female artists working with Pussy Riot and Unicorn DAO.
With this glitch sale, we missed a big part of how underrepresented communities and female artists are very important in this movement, more so than other movements. We are very thankful that the community picked up the issue and, in two weeks’ time, it was relaunched with a whole new narrative and curation, including many female, transgender, and non-binary artists who’ve been very key in the evolution of this glitch movement.
So, I’m very thankful. They helped us a lot in making us rework the curation. It was very important for us to listen.
SOTHEBY’S GEN ART PROGRAM LAUNCHING
We launch a dedicated program dedicated to Generative Art powered by @artblocks_io
Highly curated long form series (3 releases per year) Elevated presentation & Educational program Physical exhibitions and IRL Events
You’ve also been teasing a forthcoming project in the generative art space. What can you tell us about it?
It’s really exciting and something the whole team has been working on for more than a year. It goes with our new strategy to have a lot of engagement within the generative art movement. We are going to launch a new Gen Art program that will be powered by Art Blocks Engine.
It’s a huge honor to be partnering with Art Blocks. I’m a fan myself, and I think they’ve done an amazing job innovating and creating this whole new ecosystem for artists with these tools. There will only be two or three sales in the program each year, so it will be extremely curated in a very fine art way with exhibition videos and proper education about the works.
I’m very happy with that to inaugurate this GenArt program with Vera Molnár. She is 99 years old. She’s like the mother of generative art. She’s been all her life seeking the latest technology and innovating and pushing boundaries.
When you look at her career, it’s full of different periods, depending on the new tools she was using. And now, she looks at what the blockchain, creative coding, and long-form generative art can provide to making this new body of work. She’s been partnering with a great artist, Martine Grasseur, who’s known in the generative art space. This sale will happen at the end of July.
It’s major news for the generative art scene because she’s the artist who influenced so many young artists we know today, like Tyler Hobbs and Dmitri Cherniak. Without the advancements she made in the 60s, we couldn’t be here today.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
For the full and uncut interview, listen to our podcast episode with Michael Bouhanna.
Despite being a medical student by day and a break dancer by night, the Milwaukee resident has managed to make his mark on the digital art market with six-figure sales and auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. His Neo-Precisionist artwork frequently explores landscapes and scenery native to the Midwest and has become instantly recognizable in the NFT space.
In a thoughtful interview, Yun explains how he manages time between his art career and studies, shares tips for building a strong collector base, and opens up on staying grounded despite the challenges of the bear market.
Matt Medved: You have a really interesting backstory. Tell us a bit about juggling medical school, break dancing, and all the different pursuits you do while still also making your way into NFTs and having a real breakthrough in crypto art.
Grant Yun: I’ve been an artist my whole life, and when I went to college, I wanted to start doing digital illustrations. I picked that up, kind of self-taught from the ground up. I started illustrating on PowerPoint, basically because I had no other tools; I didn’t know of any other tools. But I taught myself a lot about artists and knew the type of art I wanted to convey. At the time, I just didn’t have the skills or the tools to create the things I wanted to, but the vision has always been there.
Then over the years, I’ve just been slowly grinding away at improving my style and finding a unique voice for myself as an artist. When we begin as artists, it’s sometimes difficult to create a style of your own that’s unique. It took me a lot of trial and error to get there. But eventually, I got to a point where I was very happy and confident with the style that I create.
Towards the end of 2020, I started hearing about Beeple, about things called metaverse lands, like on Decentraland. I’ve always been a pretty big proponent of crypto. I always believed in Bitcoin and decentralized currencies. So, I looked into it, and there was this application to SuperRare. I didn’t know what a Metamask was. I didn’t really know that side of Twitter. I didn’t know any of that. But I thought I’d put myself out there.
I applied for SuperRare and then completely forgot about it. In February of 2021, I got onboarded and accepted. That’s when I minted my first NFT. The journey of getting from there to where I am today, and even when I started digital illustrations, has always been about pushing the boundaries of what I think I can possibly do with my life.
The Story Behind My Art -Grant Riven Yun (November, 2022)
You’re also known for having quite a distinctive artistic style. You’ve cited some influences like Grant Wood and Ed Ruscha as influences in the past. How would you describe your style, and where do you draw that inspiration from?
I’ve talked quite extensively about the artists that inspire me, and you’ve mentioned a couple. Of course, I also have some other artists, like a lot of 1900s painters, and more recently, the Impressionists have been inspiring me as well. But something I don’t talk about too often is just following my vision. That seems so cliche and ambiguous, but what I mean is that when I start an illustration, unless it’s a commission, I just start with a very ambiguous concept and just go at it.
It has no end goal to it. There’s nothing I want to put in it. The only thing I want to make sure of is that it’s subtle enough that people can relate to it from their own personal lives. And when I illustrate, the concern is, are the vibes right? If the vibes are not right, then I need to go back at it or stop it.
I found this sweet spot at this point where I’m able to create illustrations that I want to showcase, but at the same time are ambiguous enough, like I mentioned, where other people can look at [them] and think, ‘oh, this is something from my life or something from my past or where I live or a particular memory that I’ve had that I can relate to.’ And that’s really what my art is about. It’s really about connecting emotionally with other people.
“Many of my collectors actually enjoy looking at the pieces they own from me… there’s a very deep emotional connection.”
The collector base you’ve built up over the years is impressive. What advice do you have for artists looking to do the same?
Building a strong collector base is a difficult task, and I think some artists have it easier than others; for example, Tyler Hobbs and Dimitri Cherniak. Their art is exceptional to the point where there is no doubt that it’s going to be something valuable in the future. It’s not up to me to decide who has good art and who doesn’t. The market dictates that.
I think part of the reason I have a strong collector base is that many of my collectors actually enjoy looking at the pieces they own from me. Collectors often reach out to me about how this particular illustration reminds them of where they grew up, where they were born, where they met their partner, where they had their first kid, where they went to school, or where they work now. There’s a very deep emotional connection.
Another thing is being active on Twitter. I’ve learned it’s important to bite your tongue sometimes if you’re heavily opinionated on something. Typically, those things that you’re highly opinionated on kind of work themselves out anyways, and you don’t need to be caught up in the fire while it’s going on.
It’s being self-aware of your own art style and your internet presence on Twitter. For example, I remember when I first met Vincent Van Dough (VVD) on Twitter. It was because I created this random Pepe in 2021. This was before I knew what Fake Rares were. I knew of the Nakamoto card but didn’t know the Pepe community was so strong. VVD commented on it and followed me that day after he saw that. Then another collector reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, I can onboard you to these things called Fake Rares.’
I met a lot of collectors and artists through Fake Rares, and I’ve helped onboard a lot of artists as well onto that platform. So, one door opens another, as long as you’re receptive and you’re willing to hear people out and be self-aware and also aware of the status quo and the memes that are going on on Twitter and the macro and micro things that are happening in the world.
How do you manage your time to give your artist career the attention it deserves while seeing through the commitment you’ve made to medical school?
There are things that you can sacrifice and things you can’t. For example, I can give up video gaming. I enjoy playing video games, but that is more so a hobby than being an artist, right? It’s very difficult for me to give up being an artist. I think setting a very clear set of absolute musts and things I cannot give up no matter how busy I am is important. Even going for a run, those are things that I don’t think I could give up because a run takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, two hours for me. And I can listen to podcasts. I can listen to online lectures.
That’s actually what I did for basically the first three years of medical school. I would just go to the gym. I would listen to my lectures for two hours at the gym. It almost felt like I didn’t waste a single minute. I’m actually towards the end of medical school now, so I’ve been through literally the hardest parts of medical school while I was doing all this NFT stuff. So, I know the rigorous demands that medical school has and how to juggle all of that. I would say the first thing is being good at multitasking.
“There are things that you can sacrifice and things you can’t.”
It’s about understanding your priorities. For example, the timeline for being an artist is significantly stretched out compared to being a doctor. Being a doctor means going from room to room, seeing a patient for 15 minutes, and then you go into a surgery. Whereas there’s not this sense of immediacy as an artist. When I’m working on projects, I can plan for a year in advance. Some of the things I’m dropping this year have been in the works for a year. So, I allow myself that time, and I’m given that time, and it’s almost imperative that I do have that time to work on my art, work on the marketing, work on the drops with the company.
I developed my style of art long before medical school. So, I kind of knew what I was doing. At the same time, while I wasn’t on Twitter necessarily, I had a lot of experience on Instagram promoting things. I had that foundation of knowing how to interact, what memes are, and all of that. Coming into NFT Twitter, I didn’t necessarily have to learn all that from the ground up, so when I started medical school, there was no time conflict where I needed to spend all this time developing my art style. Take that time to really develop the things you want to work on when things are slow. When the time comes, and things pick up, and you have 10,000 things on your to-do list, at least you completed the things you wanted to, so you have more time to do other things.
Let’s dive more directly into the subject of mental health. Obviously, there are a lot of stresses and pressures of being an artist in a space as volatile and fast-moving as NFTs and Web3. And then there are the stresses and pressures of being at medical school. How do you stay grounded?
The more I think about it, the one thing that grounds me more than anything, besides my family and the very important people in my life, is listening to music. I’m a very big music person. I do my best to explore as many genres as possible. I was thinking about this yesterday actually, funnily enough. I was so sad that I might not have enough years in my life to explore all the music that I would like to.
If I’m creating a particular illustration, then I’ll have some songs that I listen to. Sometimes when I’m illustrating something that reminds me of, for example, my drive home from work, then I’ll be listening to just the stuff that I listen to when I’m driving home from work. That puts me in the mood to convey exactly what it is I want to show. I’d like to play that while I’m illustrating to really fully immerse myself into whatever it is.
One of the things that is characteristic of the NFT and crypto space is the volatility. There are the bulls and the bears, and all of the market cycles. For many artists in the NFT space, this kind of bear market is a new experience. From your own experience, having been in the NFT space for a long time, what has it been like to navigate as an artist, and what have been the challenges and opportunities you’ve found within that dynamic?
I’ve been fortunate. I’m aware of the situation that we’re in as a space, but there’s also luck mixed in for sure. I haven’t been hit as hard. I think I’m doing fairly well in the space, all things considered. But the space is difficult right now. I think a lot of artists can build. I know talking about building is almost a meme at this point because everyone’s building.
But I think any artist who is genuinely building and creating and improving upon themselves, as long as they’re seriously looking into constructive feedback and improving upon whatever it is they want to, when things turn around for the better, it’ll become very clear who actually was doing the building and who was just saying they were and weren’t doing anything.
I also think that those who are here now and haven’t left, despite maybe not having a sale [in a long time], will probably be more rewarded, not only because of the bags that they’re holding or the art they’re putting out. There are things that other people are going to miss out on that are going on right now. There are some unique and exciting things happening in 2023 despite the condition of the market. People who aren’t here are just going to miss out.
Thrilled to announce “Midwest” will be included in Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale happening live in NYC on May 12th! Physical you say? included alongside the NFT Link below to the auction. 1/ pic.twitter.com/0WoHGIIky3
When we talk about your artistic career, you have achieved some major milestones; the major auction sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s come to mind. What do you consider to be on your bucket list? What are some things you want to achieve in the future?
That’s a great question. The next thing that I’m looking toward is probably a show. Either a solo or a group exhibition would be something that I’m looking forward to. I’m working on a body of work right now that I would like to showcase at some point, hopefully within the next year. I guess we’ll just have to see how it pans out.
It’s been really difficult to wrap my head around what it means to be an artist in the NFT space and the overarching art space because we’re like a self-sufficient, sustainable community here, right? I mean, no Christie’s, no Sotheby’s, no galleries. We can, and we have been, kind of self-sufficient. The NFTs that are being purchased, for the most part, are from crypto-native sources.
We’re slowly branching out to different sectors and different areas of the world and trying to onboard as many people as possible while we’re doing that. But finding an identity as an artist has been more challenging than I thought it would be. I say that because it’s easier to find an identity on the internet as an internet persona creating NFTs. But now that I’m doing my best to try to break out into a different space, it’s essentially starting from the ground up.
Sure, my art might have a higher price tag, but that doesn’t really mean very much, personally speaking, compared to gaining those experiences working with galleries or museums and working with a different side of art that a lot of us just haven’t seen and haven’t gone through. I think it’s going to be challenging but also really exciting. My next big goal really is just to try to grow a career in art from the ground up.
This interview transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.
For the full and uncut interview, listen to our podcast episode withGrant Yun.