COLUMNS

  • TOKEN GESTURE

    ON THE AFTERNOON of February 19—immediately after the classic internet meme known as Nyan Cat was auctioned for almost $600,000—digital art abruptly entered the most recent, and perhaps most heated, of its many hype cycles. In the weeks that followed, media outlets from PBS NewsHour to Saturday Night Live reiterated the story of record-breaking prices fueled by an enigmatic technology called the blockchain, which is a system used by techno-libertarians and anarcho-capitalists for encrypting immutable digital records in blocks of data across a decentralized chain of computers. Blockchains can be

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  • Dry Goods

    ON OUR LONG DRIVE through the desert of the Coachella Valley chasing the artworks and installations of Desert X 2021, my fifteen-year-old daughter and I drove past the El Dorado Estates. Scrubby bushes in the pale-brown soil stretched back into the vast and vacant desert behind a cinderblock wall advertising the never-realized development named after the elusive, imaginary city of gold. In the hundred miles we spent crisscrossing the desert, we passed through the shimmering black cells of solar farms and clusters of rusty corrugated shacks, past plastic-surgery centers and boarded-up resorts

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  • In Safe Hands

    IN EARLY FEBRUARY, I hopped in a car bound for Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania with my friend Becca Blackwell. Our mission was a mixture of business and pleasure: to visit Youtube-famous chiropractor, and hallowed muscle whisperer, Dr. Brent Binder. Becca—either a performance artist with a staggering knowledge of touch specialists or an anarchist pervert, depending on your chosen paradigm—is working on a new solo performance installation, The Body Never Lies. exploring the possibilities for healing beyond western medicine, which often fails its Hippocratic mandate by ignoring the idiosyncratic

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  • Contested Terrain

    WITH FEWER THAN HALF A MILLION RESIDENTS, Oakland’s complex art ecosystem rivals those of cities twice its size. Muralists, art-school grads, experimental musicians, artist-activists, graffiti writers, and Burning Man sectarians live and work throughout Oakland’s deindustrialized shoreline corridor and flatlands. Its DIY cultures are eclectic and often political, owing to the city’s distinctive history of liberation movements, mutual-aid networks, and labor organizing.

    Fifteen years ago, Oakland was, relative to tech-gentrified San Francisco, semi-affordable. Today, Oakland artists battle colossal

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  • On the Tuileries Slave Memorial Jury “Impasse”

    I WAS ONE OF FIVE ARTISTS shortlisted for the competition to create the Memorial in the Tuileries to the Victims of Slavery. I write to correct some of the factual misrepresentations of this process that have recently appeared in the international press.1 The French Culture Ministry’s Call for Applications for that commission required the following materials from the artist applicants: (1) an artistic document of no more than 15 pages, (2) a portfolio presentation of five recently realized works, (3) a letter of motivation, and (4) a curriculum vitae of no more than two pages.2 In this first

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  • Gray Eminence

    ON THE FACE OF IT, the reinstallation of selected works of art from the Frick Collection in the Breuer building at 875 Madison Avenue provides a refreshing change. After as much as a century in the same setting, masterpieces once embedded in a Gilded Age mansion are now out on their own. Hung on the plain walls of a concrete Brutalist icon, spaced apart from each other, paintings, sculptures, porcelains, two rugs, and some great eighteenth-century French furniture have temporarily jettisoned the ornate wood paneling, lavish curtain window treatments, and decorous fountain courtyard of what was

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  • Royalty Check

    THE CONFOUNDING PRICES realized by cyptoart sales recently have overshadowed another extraordinary aspect of these transactions. Many NFT “smart contracts” include an embedded resale royalty—often 10 percent—that flows back to the artist every time the work is resold. Better yet for the creators, when used, this NFT technology distributes those royalties automatically upon any change of ownership registered on the blockchain (without the need for lawyers and letters). Beeple himself, maker of this year’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days, has benefited from this income stream. When an earlier work,

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  • Against Getting It

    IN AN INTERVIEW with the Sundance Institute’s Adam Piron this past November, filmmaker and video artist Sky Hopinka discussed the freedom he has found in making work for Indigenous viewers: “It’s empowering to realize that you don’t have to make films for a white audience and consider whether or not they understand the cultural references.” Hopinka’s experimental narratives are nonlinear collages of Native imagery, language, and experiences that are, he knows, not legible to all—even most—of his viewers. It is not surprising that the artist, a member of the Ho-Chunk nation, might choose to center

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  • Chain Reaction

    ON MARCH 11, Christie’s will make history as the first traditional auction house to complete a sale of a purely digital artwork, authenticated on a blockchain, payable in cryptocurrency. The single lot sale consists only of EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS by the artist known as Beeple, real name Mike Winkelmann. The image file, a whopping 21,069 x 21,069 pixels, is really five thousand individual images tiled into a dense mosaic, the result of a feat of creative endurance in which Beeple created a new digital drawing each day over thirteen years, originally sharing them to his Instagram, which

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  • Point of View

    IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO IDENTIFY exactly when photography “went digital,” but a helpful benchmark is January 19, 2012, the day the Eastman Kodak Company filed for bankruptcy. A little over a decade earlier, digital cameras entered the mainstream consumer market. Soon after, the same technology began to be incorporated into a new, suddenly ubiquitous device: the cell phone. By the end of the aughts, the film and film cameras that made Kodak a multinational $30 billion brand were rendered antiquated and niche. Photographic images, analog for nearly two centuries, were now 0s and 1s. 

    Recently, I’ve been

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  • Aspirational Dystopia

    THE MOST WIDELY ANTICIPATED VIDEO GAME of the past several years, Cyberpunk 2077, was finally released in the twilight of 2020. Served up in over thirty countries across all major gaming platforms, this regrettably undercooked sci-fi pastiche—riddled with disruptive glitches, prone to crashing, and jerry-rigged from clearly unfinished code—infuriated nerds across the globe. I thought that perhaps a dystopian hacker narrative marred by erroneous programming might represent a perfect (albeit accidental) marriage of form and content—but this interpretation has probably appeased no one. Moreover,

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  • Point of No Return

    “WHEN DISCONTENT WITH MUSEUMS is strong enough to provoke the attempt to exhibit paintings in their original surroundings or in ones similar, in baroque or rococo castles, for instance, the result is even more distressing than when the works are wrenched from their original surroundings and then brought together.” This is Theodor Adorno in his great essay “Valéry Proust Museum,” first published in German in 1955, a moment of reckoning and reconstruction. Though Adorno doesn’t specify why the attempt to return and repatriate is more upsetting than the original rift and reassembling of modernity,

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