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Art and Design / March 19, 2021

$69m NFT art piece is littered with racist and homophobic imagery

Beeple Beeple 'Everydays: The First 5,000 Days'
Art and Design / March 19, 2021

$69m NFT art piece is littered with racist and homophobic imagery

By Emily Mullen

The ‘Everydays: The First 5,000 Days’ has been dogged by scandals since its record-breaking sale last week.

Following the stratospheric sale of ‘Everydays: The First 5,000 Days’ by Beeple aka the digital artist Mike Winkelmann at Christie’s last week. The art, the artist, and the record-breaking sale have been under intense scrutiny from a lot of online quarters. The piece’s sale for $69 million has made it the third most expensive piece of art by a living artist (overtaking the likes of Titian and Raphael). Naturally, the sale of a .jpg file for a long string of zeros has caused a lot of head-scratching and has raised some legitimate concerns for the future of the artworld (whether digital or physical).

First the sale:

Any artist who has rocked the art world as much as Beeple has is bound to be the subject of scrutiny. Particularly when that work is a web file and not even a physical piece. But there have been some legitimate concerns about the escalation of the work’s value. It’s been suggested that Beeple has been involved in a get-rich-quick scheme alongside one of the piece’s buyers and the owner of the world’s largest NFT fund, Vignesh Sundaresan AKA MetaKovan. Firstly Sundaresan’s involvement in the sale is interesting because of who he is, a former founder of the now-defunct Coins-e, an early cryptocurrency exchange, a company that reportedly stole multiple customers’ cryptocurrency holdings. Also, the manner in which Sundaresan is selling fractional ownership of the work through the newly launched Metapurse, a crypto-based investment firm. This partial ownership is done by purchasing a stake in the work through the company’s B20 token, the hope is that buyers will benefit from the work’s rising value and will have access to a sort of index fund. The problem is that Sundaresan had already reportedly given himself a 59% share of the outstanding B20 tokens, while Winkelmann has received 2%. This prior majority stake by Sundaresan does not bang of legitimacy, especially since any increase in the value of the piece drives up the price and earns them both a lot of sweet sweet cash.

Second the work:

The work itself has also borne scrutiny, not least for what it is, literally a large .jpg file. But the intent and the merit behind some of the artwork in the piece have been called into question. Sure an artist who has created a piece every day since May 1, 2007, is entitled to have a few dodgy days. But some of the 5,000 pieces that have been pulled are definitely a little questionable. While most of the pieces highlighted by Christie’s during the sale have been from Beeple’s more recent work, caustic social commentary in high-end 3D. Some of his earlier work is less polished and clever.

As with any artist, Beeple’s style has changed both with the development of technology and the dissemination of information. As he said himself, “By posting the results online I’m ‘less’ likely to throw down a big pile of ass-shit” Beeple explained his motivations for creating the piece online, “even though most of the time I still do because I suck ass,” he wrote on his website. The difference is, that this “suck ass” work is now valued at $14,000 per day.

You could say that Beeple, like with other artists (and indeed journalists) really came into their own during the Trumpian years, which were filled with political outrage and satire. This style became a lot more defined, his subjects are more impactful. As with everything, it’s important to look at things on the whole, which is to be fair the whole premise of this work. In fact, Christie’s make it a little hard to see the work in detail (despite it all existing online, no scanning or uploading required). It’s hard to see the individual images of what they call “Beeple’s opus” on Christie’s website. Searching through Beeple’s 13 years’ worth of the artist’s work the artnet.com has uncovered some dodgy pieces mainly from 2007/2008. The number of pieces on United States Senator Hillary Clinton shows a serious preoccupation with her. While other pieces throw around racial stereotypes like it’s confetti.

Here’s a collection of some of the more questionable works anyway:

Beeple’s if I was one of them fancy-dancy elite art homos I’d call this ‘light study v1 from November 10, 2008.
Beeple’s untitled “Everyday” from June 4, 2007.
Beeple’s senator clinton makes a last ditch effort to reach black voters from February 23, 2008.
Beeple’s Uncle Bernie’s Trillion Dollar Superteat from November 17, 2018
Beeple’s robot girl discovers 20th century black dildos (and then it’s on like Donkey Kong), April 18, 2008.
Beeple’s Pussy from September 8, 2007.
Beeple’s The Dalai Lama should give some girl the peace symbol and then like totally finger fuck her from April 10, 2008.
Beeple’s it’s fun to draw black people from November 19, 2007.
Beeple’s a fat nerdy chinese kid and his imaginary friends from August 23, 2007

When asked if they had taken a proper look at the work in its entirety, one of the buyers Twobadour told artnet.com that “we didn’t need a preview”. They added, “This is going to be a billion-dollar piece someday.” This blind belief in the work is admirable, but surely you should check that “fancy-dancy elite art” out before buying it.

Elsewhere on District: Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor join forces in Frank Berry’s film about Direct Provision