“Obligatory comment on the “nonfungible token” (NFT) craze“
Goya’s Graphic Imagination; at The Met, through May 2, 2021.
Everyone interested in any way in “contemporary art” must comment on the development and encroachment of NFTs — virtual-only stuff stored in cyberspace in that makes Photoshop-minded and delivered imagery seem archaic –into the elite art world. In some ways, art collecting always been that way–i.e., about chancing a “find” that would accrue in cultural as well as financial value in some sort of tandem. There’s been admiration, in retrospect, for collectors and dealers who made and jumped waves, individually and as part of art world cabals, variously near- and far-sighted; in short, part of what reifies art, artists, and artistic directions in history. Almost too obvious to be said, media and materials as well as what may be, in many cases, mementos of a particular moment in historical time (aka artificial [human-made] things) evolve. There is evidence that elite members of a number of very ancient peoples sponsored the creation of symbolic and/or documentary “tokens” (art; artifacts), perhaps musing far into the future.
It has been a tenet of many art dealers working with living artists across at least two centuries: don’t buy art only as investment–barely such a thing as sure-fire in the early days; make sure you like it as art or you may ultimately be very disappointed in more ways than one. Somewhere c. 1990 (formulating gradually under Reaganomics) that changed and so now we’re here with the crypto-currency crowd buying up code. Who is shocked?
There is only so far I want to go with this after so much more explicit blabber, better and worse; honestly, I am not that interested. The idea that novelty per se in any form seems to have a kind of instinctual appeal and titillation for many, itself provokes mild curiosity. Specifically, I do believe the recent rise of this one particular $million sale of an NFT by the artist Beeple this week marks a pending final death knell for a postwar art world that survived the first decades of the new millennium (for better and worse). Late boomers (me) have remained tethered to a mixed sensual and psychic interaction with art by any means (i.e., art in person, wherever, however – even if its in a booth or isolated place on a screen yet presented as the surround of the art). Traipsing through the galleries and museums of NYC for all sorts of reasons and non-reason and in many different hats and contexts–that was a norm and a boon and a privilege in New York for the art-leaning (in myriad directions). Whatever the exclusionary, financial-and-other scandal-laden networks of elite New York art dealers and galleries for several centuries now, the fact remains that there “office space” (as it were) has been largely open to anyone to peruse art for free. For many of us art-loving plebes the galleries were en route every day or a frequent small detour, if not a “scene.” That “norm” has drastically changed now in more ways than one. Veritably all art and general interest journals and newspapers cover physical art through online interaction. Covid-19 of course is tied up in the kind of synchronistic event of the Beeple sale. Certainly the gallery sphere appears to be headed to a wholly virtual reorganization very quickly. Likewise, some museums, spurred by the pandemic to be sure, are nearly saturated, even in online presentations, with digital bells and whistles. So this blog was started at the the tail end of that era and the crest of addiction to “art on Instagram” that everyone acquired in isolation. We’ll see what happens.
For the moment, I reacted to the hype with an antidote–the sensitive, Gothicizing works on paper of Goya at The Met. Goya is a good go-to when the going gets bad. His often cryptic, sometimes breezy iconography of fear and suffering, especially that humans directly provoke in each other, are visceral at intimate scale, close-up, IRL. I find myself taking, or looking for, “sides” with Goya–not so much politically drawn per se, as emotional and spiritual reactions to his miniature mis-en-scenes–here fluid ink-washed drawings are included with his signature scratchy etching. Some of his most renowned images, like a few from the intricately brutal Disasters of War series, still shock–thank goodness. Also included are a few studies of mainstream (as it were) subjects to remind of the stature, training, and assorted patronage of the “enlightened” artist; but the disturbing ones remain most compelling and communicate a soul-searching creative, as well as a unique artistic hand.