Eine Zeitlang war es überall, sogar auf Halloween-Kürbissen: Das Gif „Nyan Cat“ schwirrt schon seit zehn Jahren durchs Netz. Vor Kurzem wurde die millionenfach geteilte Grafik für eine halbe Million Euro verkauft.
© imago stock&people
By Barbara Unterthurner
Innsbruck – For 13 years Mike Winkelmann alias Beeple, a graphic designer and self-proclaimed “political cartoonist”, has been dropping a picture online every day. “Everydays” are designed and carried out in one day. Nightmarish hybrids, characters from comic or digital culture and many a politician scurried through dystopian sci-fi worlds; Smileys are put in chains and Jeff Bezos appears as a grotesquely hyper-realistic sea monster. At the end of February, Beeple responded to the breakup of Daft Punk with a handshake from the French electro duo. Winkelmann is a network artist and the whole art world has known his name since yesterday at the latest. His diary, the 5000 graphic collage “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” went under the hammer at Christie’s. It went to the highest bidder for around 70 million dollars – the starting price, by the way, was 100 dollars. It is the first digital work of art that the US auction house sold.
It won’t be the last of its kind. The run on digital art is currently particularly high. The reason for the hype is also the pandemic, in which a wealthy collectors are looking for new investment opportunities. It is made possible by a technology called NFT, which allows individual works to be purchased as digital originals.
The term “digital original” alone is a contradiction in terms: after all, new memes or videos regularly flood the web, are shared, copied, edited – without any money being paid for them. For decades, artists have been producing digital works that have never been able to achieve the value of their material “colleagues” painting or sculpture – precisely because they are accessible and divisible everywhere. It will still be possible to copy digital art, but individual versions are now authenticated thanks to NFTs, and the work is given a virtual signature, so to speak. Somewhat similar to how a painting is certified in analogue with an expert opinion or with the help of provenance research.
NFTs are only more secure: In contrast to “Fungible Tokens” like Bitcoins, “Non-Fungible Tokens” are not exchangeable, they are unique. NFT, to put it casually, is digital stuff that can be owned: Whoever buys NFTs buys a token and an object that is linked to it. This can not only be digital art, but also the first tweet on Twitter or virtual land. In the blockchain game “Axie Infinity” published in 2018, for example, a piece of land was sold for 1.5 million dollars. More precisely for yesterday 833.04 Ethereum, currently the highest endowed cryptocurrency after Bitcoin. The country doesn’t really exist, but it does exist in the form of data, stored in the blockchain and thus forgery-proof.
Beeples “Everydays” also went under the hammer as an NFT yesterday. As one has been doing for a long time on various NFT platforms apart from the auction houses: Grimes, for example, musician and better half of Elon Musik, recently hawked her edition series “War Nymphs”, ten digital paintings, animations and clips via Nifty Gateways. For a mere six million dollars.
And because every sensational report from the net also needs its own cat content: Chris Torres’ “Nyan Cat”, a roughly pixelated kitten that pulls a rainbow behind it, got an owner at the end of February through the Foundation for 500,000 euros. Ten years after the gif hit the web and graced T-shirts, mugs, and even Halloween pumpkins.
But why does someone want to own a gif? According to the New York Times, if not copyrights, it is the “rights to boast”. The collector assures himself that his copy is the “most authentic” one. So is digital art also about the much-invoked “aura” of an original? In any case, Walter Benjamin sends his regards.
One last question remains open: what to do with digital art, the pure data? How should the Beeple mega-collage be installed? In the talk on Clubhouse, Beeple is said to have said that he is open to different types of installation, reports the art magazine Monopol. As a print, on the facade of a museum, on a screen. Everything is imaginable for him.