A Jean-Michel Basquiat has possibly averted annihilation by NFT. Earlier this week, a seller who only identified themselves as “DAYstrom” attempted to auction an NFT of Basquiat’s 1986 drawing Free Comb with Pagoda, granting the winner the option to destroy the work so that only the NFT would survive. Whether the whole thing is a genuine sales pitch or ticket scalping or a joke or an artwork plumbing the nihilistic depths of NFTs, DAYstrom made the point: Some people just want to watch the world burn.
The Art Newspaper reports that the Basquiat estate had the piece removed from OpenSea by asserting the estate’s ownership of licensing rights and copyright. In a bizarre release, DAYstrom had advertised not only the conference of the digital token but “all related IP and copyright in perpetuity.” So presumably, the buyer would not receive said work, only the digitised token of the work, and the right to either burn it or make T-shirts.
David Stark, a licensing agent for the estate, told the Art Newspaper that “no licence or rights were conveyed to the seller.” DAYstrom doesn’t identify the owner of the work, which, the Art Newspaper reports, was last known to have sold to an anonymous collector in 2015. Gizmodo has reached out to OpenSea to ask if they would have verified a relationship or the work’s authenticity.
But counterpoint: the random internet handle tells the Art Newspaper that the unspecified owner has “proof of purchase and payment to substantiate exclusive ownership.” No doubt they do! But we know nothing about DAYstrom’s relationship to said owner, only that DAYstrom describes itself or themself as the “Emmy-winning, multi-segment mindshare behind the iconic BowieBank.” (They’re presumably referring to David Bowie’s short-lived online bank, which was spelled “BowieBanc.” The David Bowie estate told Gizmodo that they were not familiar with the handle “DAYstrom.”) The seller’s overall tone errs more on the side of game show auctioneer than art dealer.
“His work has shattered public sales records across the globe,” DAYstrom spouts, “and periodically appears at Christie’s, Bonham’s & Sotheby’s where his work brought $US110 ($142) million at auction in 1997.”
“What a load of bullshit,” art critic Paddy Johnson told Gizmodo. (Full disclosure: Johnson is my former boss.) “I’ve never heard of DAYstrom, and I’ve definitely never heard of BowieBank, which doesn’t even bring up a Yelp review let alone evidence of its award-winning Emmy.”
Johnson said that this scans as “a media stunt designed to sell a bad Basquiat drawing some collector couldn’t unload.” As the Art Newspaper reported, the work got no takers at a 2012 auction in Texas.
The estate has not disputed the work’s authenticity, though it hasn’t confirmed it, either.
So, lesson learned: Some guy who knows a guy could mint an NFT of an artwork and sell it on OpenSea. Artists already know the moral about the burgeoning cryptobro market, which is just an amplified version of an existing market that mines physical works for profits as it would any flippable commodity. “What this case makes clear,” Johnson said, “is that there continue to be a lot of people out there who would like to exploit the rights of artists for financial gain.”