This whole Non-Fungible Token (NFT) craze has me convinced that rich people just don’t know what to do with their money. The more I research it, the more the concept seems like one that managed to teleport from the year 2000 just as the dot-com bubble was bursting. Considering that the whole idea is the epitome of white people trying it, it should come as no surprise that Black art has been caught in the NFT crosshairs. An auction for an NFT of a drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat has been shut down by the late artist’s estate. Why? Well, the auction would’ve allowed the winner to destroy the original work.
The Daily Beast reports that a group called Daystrom had put up for auction an NFT based on a Basquiat drawing, Free Comb With Pagoda, which is estimated to be worth $80,000. The auction was set to start at $2,500, which is the approximate price of one Ethereum token, a cryptocurrency. Whoever won the auction would’ve been allowed to destroy the original work so that the version locked within the blockchain would essentially be the only legitimate version of the drawing.
Now, if reading any of that had you like, “Uh, what?” No worries, I got you. So, an NFT essentially is a unique piece of digital art. It could be a high-resolution scan of a painting, a video, an album, a GIF, essentially any digitized piece of art or content. The appeal of an NFT is that it’s encrypted into a blockchain, which is a digital ledger that proves the item you have is one of one. Once an item, like a piece of art, is locked into the blockchain, the NFT cannot be duplicated or copied, so you essentially have a unique, one-of-one digital item within your investment portfolio.
Now, having explained all that—can you imagine wanting a glorified JPEG over a physical, handcrafted creation? I know it’s more so about the money than the actual artistry for the people in the NFT game, but still. It’s a fucking Basquiat. If you had any real respect for art and artistry, why would you even make destroying it an option?
Obviously, Basquiat’s estate was feeling some kind of way about the auction and shut it down, as it violated its copyright. “The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat owns the copyright in the artwork referenced. No license or rights were conveyed to the seller and the NFT has subsequently been removed from sale,” a statement from the estate read.
Daystrom also issued a statement in response to the auction being shut down. “The Estate, or what’s left of it, bears little connection to the dignity, power and righteousness of its patron namesake—a man committed to the same social justice we need today more than ever...the Estate’s refusal to recognize any rights possessed by the owner of his original work completely defies the legacy they’ve been privileged to protect,” the statement read.
Wow, that whole thing just radiated big “Do you know who my father is?” energy. It’s mad weird that they tried to invoke the cause of social justice to defend potentially destroying a piece of Black art. In what reality does destroying a piece of Black art and hiding it behind digital encryption advance the cause of social justice?
So if there’s any takeaway here, it’s that the same folks who don’t care about preserving the environment, also don’t care about preserving art. Who would’ve guessed?