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WesRecs x $WHALE: Art Media Spotlight #002

A quick rundown of cool art reads & views curated for the $WHALE community by Wes Hazard

A recurring series highlighting worthwhile writing, podcasts, & videos of note pertaining to digital art, NFTs, blockchain and the $WHALE community’s mission to become the MoMA of the Metaverse.

SuperRare Collector Spotlight: Kenshiro

Image credit SuperRare

This a quick read featuring an interview with a top collector on SuperRare. It was interesting to see how Kenshiro mentally classifies various creators by the kinds of work they create (i.e. AI/Robotics, Fantasy, Concept Art/2D). It’s clear he enjoys a wide variety of work and that he knows where to look to acquire it. I appreciated what Kenshiro had to say about leveling up as a collector slowly and the inevitable liquidity squeeze you’ll experience if you go all out buying your favorite high-ticket pieces without a plan (I know the pain…). Wise words here about the collector/creator relationship and how both sides can foster and benefit from it. We know there are infinite ways to create, we talk about different approaches to collecting much less - so I was happy for the insight.

4. Do you have advice for collectors who are just starting out?

Avoid following trends and/or other collectors. Study what the ones you like do, but don’t imitate, find your own style. There are many valid ways to collect art but you should find your own strategy based on budget and timeframe. Talk to artists before buying their pieces in order to see whether you are on the same wavelength. Decide what the maximum amount you’re willing to pay for a piece is before getting emotional in a bidding war and finding yourself overpaying it. Learn to let go. Ideally you want to have some small losses and a few big wins. Invest in the careers of artists you really resonate with and help support them in any way you can, really building a lasting win/win relationship.

5. What’s your advice for emerging artists from a collector’s point of view?

Patience is key. At the moment the market is focused on collectibles, but I believe long term (monthly -> yearly timeframes) there will be a shift to 1/1 art as the market matures. Keep working and honing your skills, innovate and don’t despair if you haven’t made a sale in 1–2 months. Try to study what the artists who are selling even during bear markets are doing differently and adapt their winning strategies to your own. Get to know your collectors, they are your greatest allies. Build a win/win relationship with them, seek advice, brainstorm, innovate. Stay away from trends just because it’s what’s currently selling and devote yourself to finding your own unique voice. When somebody sees your work, it should be obvious who the artist is.

The biggest issue with buying art is that if you don’t have a huge budget, you will soon be stuck for liquidity, so giving collectors some rewards/airdrops that they can monetize (if needed) is always welcome and in general it’s much easier to get a previous customer to buy from you than it is to acquire a new one.

The Art Boom: Is It Over, or Is This Just a Correction? — The New York Times (December 16, 1990)

The more things change the more they stay the same…

We’ve got a timely (untimely?) throwback piece here, published over 30 years ago, when it was becoming apparent that the white hot art market of the 1980s was officially over. It had a been a time when the economy was booming, there were countless new millionaires, and a lot of millionaires became billionaires. Sales records had been regularly shattered and buying high-ticket art had become as much of a financial flex as an act of appreciation (or even a long term investment for that matter). Things took a long time recover…and then crashed again at the dawn of the 2008 recession. Point is this happens over and over and over again. We’re seeing a bit of it now (though it’s probably too early to know just how bad this can get) and we’ll see it in the future.

My takeaway: 👉Buy only what you really truly love, and only buy it after you have secured the food on your table and the roof over your head. (Also, try to have some money socked away for when your personal grails are at a discount).

👀 See if you can spot any quotes from this 31 year old piece that resonate with your recent experienc in NFT land:

“What has crashed in the art market is all the speculation,” added Milton Esterow, publisher and editor of ARTnews magazine. “This is very healthy. All the folks who were in the market for a fast buck are out and some of them have gotten burnt.”

“It’s a much-needed correction,” said Ms. Page. “Art is not a liquid investment. You can’t turn it over every six months.”

The art auctions constitute a secondary market, often dominated by speculators, as opposed to the primary market of artists, galleries and collectors, where, some dealers say, prices are holding up. They add that they are happy to see fewer calculator-toting buyers.

“It’s the people who were in it for investment only who have dropped out,” said one dealer.

Ernie Barnes’s ‘Sugar Shack’ Painting Brings Big Price at Auction — NYT

Here we have a notable tradart sale that I think offers up a lot of food for thought about how attention, pop cultural resonance, and community resonance play out in the art market.

To recap: Ernie Barnes was a Black American painter and, at one time, a professional football player. His work is instantly recognizable for its elongated human forms, the vibrancy of the motion he depicts, his frequent sports themes, and his celebration of everyday African American culture. His painting Sugar Shack (above) recently sold for an incredible $15.3M at Christie’s (off of a $200k estimate) and was picked up by Bill Perkins, a Black hedge fund manager and energy magnate.

Now, the painting is, I think, a masterpiece. You can feel the motion and energy on that dance floor. You can smell the cigarette smoke and sweat in the air. You can instantly conjure a detailed story for every figure (or pair) depicted in it. Joy and rhythm and sexual tension scream off the canvas. Sugar Shack is a wonder.

But that is not the reason this specific painting sold for that much (it did better than a Cézanne and a Monet and a de Kooning in the same auction btw). Sugar Shack got could fetch that price because it has a one-of-a-kind foot hold in the American popular consciousness. Namely, pretty much every Black person in this country born between 1920–1970 recognizes it due to its appearances in popular culture.

Still from the Season 3 closing credits of Good Times.

Sugar Shack appeared in the closing credits of the family sitcom Good Times during the middle part of the show’s run in the mid-70s. It would probably not be possible for a Black American artist to get more mainstream exposure to a Black Audience. Prior to the 70s African Americans very rarely made it on to TV at all, let alone in a positive light, and even more so as stars of shows focusing on their lives. They were usually playing maids, porters, criminals, or bumbling minstrel caricatures. (My mom often talks of being a kid in the 50s and screaming “there’s Black people on TV!” to all of her family on the very rare occasions when she saw it.)

Things sloooooowly evolved and by the mid-70s Good Times was one of three top 20 shows on the major networks starring a Black Cast. It was a big deal to have a show with two Black parents in a house filled with love that frequently addressed real social issues and didn’t talk down to its audience. 25% of American households watched Good Times each week. Not, Black households, American. In an era where the vast majority of TV was consumed on 1 of 3 major channels having some of your best work featured prominently on screen on a weekly basis was about the best advertising anyone could get.

AND, Barnes didn’t stop there. He was personal friends with the R&B legend Marvin Gaye. Who upon seeing Sugar Shack requested permission to use a slightly modified version of it as the cover image for his 1976 album I Want You. If you are a Black American born in 1977 there is a not insignificant chance that you were conceived to this album (or at least *some* Marvin Gaye release).

Album cover for Marvin Gaye’s I Want You (1976)

So yeah, that’s a pretty incredible pop cultural lineage for this one work. Not only is it amazing in itself, not only is it the most notable work from a unique creator who was putting out awesome work for decades. But by association this painting, for millions of Black Americans of a certain age, embodies our ascension to the heights of American popular culture. This painting is like the visual embodiment of the pride and joy that my mom felt screaming through the house about those rare instances of Black people on TV. There’s a lot of value in that.

Perkins, who was raised in Jersey City, where his father, an attorney, and his mother, an educator, owned several works by the abstract artist Norman Lewis, said the Barnes painting — which he saw featured on Gaye’s album and “Good Times” — was formative in his artistic consciousness.

“You never saw paintings of Black people by Black artists,” he said. “This introduced not just me but all of America to Barnes’s work. It’s the only artwork that has ever done that. And these were firsts. So this is never going to happen again. Ever. The cultural importance of this piece is just crazy.”

So it’s interesting to think about all of this in relation to valuing cultural objects generally. This is an awesome painting, but the appraisers at Christie’s (who I cannot imagine know a whole lot about Good Times) had it pegged as going for 76x less than it actually did. They were not pricing in the ridiculous familiarity and fondness this piece has for a huge chunk of the country. I will absolutely be keeping this in mind when I consider future acquisitions to my personal collection.

Is the subject of a work adored?

Does it fill people with nostalgia and good vibes?

Was the work featured somewhere that is held in high regard by a large and specific subset of people?

All worth thinking about…

Ernie Barnes.

It should be noted that Perkins’ acquisition has unquestionably already had a massive impact on expectations for future sales of work by Ernie Barnes. The Sugar Shack was estimated to sell for $200k but ended up at $15.3M. Later during the same auction Storm Dance, which had been estimated at $100–150K went for $2.23M. That’s like when somebody tweets “Pranksy just bought 5 of these things!” about a 10k pfp collection with a floor of .165 ETH and all of a sudden they rocket to .54 (before he dumps and they fall back to .12…).

He has collected work by Black artists whose value the world had yet to fully recognize. “I’m not the art historian, I’m not the art genius, but I know markets,” he said. “And I know when something is way, way, way out of whack.

Storm Dance by Ernie Barnes. The sale price for this was absolutely influenced by recent hype but I can’t say it’s not worth it. Just electric.

Art Criticism as a Way to Live — Hyperallergic (Seph Rodney)

To me, the first order of business for those of us who want to bring more people into the world of art on the blockchain is education and exposure. More people need to know the basics of crypto, where to see NFTs, how to interact with and acquire them, the technological benefits (and limitations) that they bring, cool creators doing important work in the space, etc etc. After that we need to establish a healthy culture of criticism. And that is an extremely tall order.

I’ve seen a lot of shilling, I’ve seen a lot of genuine appreciation, I’ve seen a lot of friends sharing the work of friends. That all has its place. But I think we have yet to see a sustained and robust critical scene for the explosion of artistic work that is being released in this scene.

Part of that, I think, is because a lot of people don’t seem to understand what criticism actually is or what it’s for. It’s not just saying why you like something, it’s not just describing what is happening in a given work of art, it’s having a critical eye, a point of view, a sense of what is good and worthy and important in the world and then applying that view to an artist or a work and making a determination on whether it contributes to the vision or fails it or changes it.

We need that in NFTs, there are many promising examples already, and I have no doubt this critical element will develop as the space does. One thing we still very much have to work out is a critical ethics paradigm (basically a framework to make sure that people aren’t just gassing up artists and work because they happen to be bag holders). But I am very excited to see what comes!

I love this essay, which has absolutely nothing to do with NFTs, because in it critic Seph Rodney makes a bold and powerful case for that view of criticism and gives concrete examples of how it it is so often misunderstood or resisted — of how it can so often earn a critic enemies or lead to the loss of friends. I would recommend this piece to anyone who creates art and anyone who loves it.

Dread Scott, “Seph Rodney (Number 41)” (2019)

Here’s my understanding of the difference:

Journalism, in its ideal form, attempts to convey the facts of a situation, the “who, what, when, where, and how” that is talked about in level-one journalism college courses. This is reportage. The journalist acts as a conduit for information that is verifiably true. Critics may also report facts, but they also offer an opinion, render a judgment. A critic takes reported information or reports it themselves, and then interprets what it means for the individual, the community, the class, the nation.

Criticism is both interpretive and analytical. It goes further than journalism by using analysis to establish historical genealogies, to theorize how the effects or ramifications of the reported thing might impact particular communities or have otherwise unforeseen impacts if circumstances change. Ultimately criticism looks at meaning, for the individual critic and for the public they address. The public part is indispensable. I’ll explain, by looking at past moments of me operating as a public voice.

I suppose the last six years have shown me how to move into the interior of the discourse on contemporary aesthetic production while remembering the person who stands a little way off from the work, unsure of what to say about it, and even less sure that what they have to say will be heard with generosity. I still sometimes want to write from this imagined vantage point. What’s it like not to know, and slowly come into knowledge? I want to make a public space for being ignorant without being reviled for that ignorance. I also mean to carve out room for regarding criticism not only as long-form articles like this one, or the reviews I’ve hyperlinked throughout, but to see it as part of my Facebook conversations, tweets, Instagram comments and posts — the flip and unserious quips, the deep and considered statements. Indeed I live with a critical consciousness, and I can’t imagine not doing so.

OK, those are the current recs, but certainly not the only art-related media that we’re discussing in the $WHALE community! Be sure to stop by our Discord and check out the 👉 #art-edu 👈 channel for additional recs & dope conversation!

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