The Currency
August 5, 2022 4:15 AM   Subscribe

Damien Hirst’s ‘The Currency’ Was a Referendum on NFTs Vs. Traditional Art. The Result? A Resounding Preference for Traditional Art - Hirst's collectors aren't so sure NFTs are the future of art, it seems—even if Hirst himself is.
The results are in.

One year ago, Damien Hirst announced a brazen plan to “challenge the concept of value through money and art,” forcing buyers of his NFT project “The Currency” to decide between owning the physical artwork or the digital token connected to it. Now, Hirst has announced the final tally on his Twitter account.

So, are NFTs the future? Not according to the participants in this particular experiment. A clear majority opted to trade their NFT for the physical Hirst.
posted by bitteschoen (51 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Of course Damien Hirst would be into NFTs. Of course.

The climax of him setting all the NFT-related works on fire would be funny if it was meant to be funny, but there's no way Hirst himself intended that irony.
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 4:43 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]

Resounding preference? Almost half of the buyers chose NFTs. But I assume this was promoted heavily in crypto-bro circles so the statistics aren't really valid.
posted by mmoncur at 5:11 AM on August 5 [9 favorites]

Exactly. Even in this cherry-picked population the preference was still for paper over pixels.
posted by saturday_morning at 5:29 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Ah, but 1000 of those 4851 are Hirst's. That does seem pretty resounding.
posted by rikschell at 5:30 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]

i would have bought an nft just so i could be the reason one of hirst’s boring, insipid dot paintings was set on fire
posted by dis_integration at 5:43 AM on August 5 [17 favorites]

It's not even paper vs pixels. You don't get pixel art when you buy an NFT. It's paper vs a line in a ledger.
posted by surlyben at 5:56 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]

This is exactly the kind of bullshit I expect from a rich-ass value-depository-creator like Hirsch. His work already evokes a lot of questions about whether it’s “art”, may as well add all the other questions about “is an NFT a real possession” on top of them.

Seriously, any time high-end gallery world shenanigans show up here, there are a lot of people who will bend over backwards to justify the artistic worth of this stuff and insinuate that anyone who thinks it’s absurdly overpriced garbage is undereducated, naive, and utterly lacking in taste. I look forwards to seeing how this reflex interacts with the prevailing opinion that NFTs are terrible forever and anyone who interacts with them is terrible.
posted by egypturnash at 6:02 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]

Not to mention that his plan to destroy all the nft-related works means the supply of actual paintings is decreased thus upping their value. It’s not a zero-sum game. I think pig parts in cats of formaldehyde are cool and everything but this is a self-serving money grab.
posted by genmonster at 6:11 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]

Every time a crypto transaction of any kind takes place, there's a fee called "gas" that you have to pay to the crypto ledger system. These fees range from absurd to usurious, and make credit card companies look like charities. The only people making reliable money -- actual profit -- on crypto, are the middlemen. Then there's the grifters, the people creating the tokens and pumping them up. Then there's the chumps, the people who "deposit" real money into these systems and attempt to do literally anything with the non-existent "tokens" they think they own.

Well I'm spluttering with rage now trying to tie this into the raging asshole in the OP so I'm going to have to stop.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:18 AM on August 5 [11 favorites]

I mean the probability that Hirst painted these instead of an assistant is pretty low, so you have all the questions about authorship that brings in already. Is it a “real” Hirst if his only interaction is signing it? People are willing to pay $2k for it so I guess so. Is it a “real” Hirst if it’s a chunk of data on an aggressively inefficient distributed database that has a pointer to a jpeg on a server that could go down at any minute, and probably also has some code attached that says “send X% of any resale of this chunk of data to this address that Damien or his minions controlled at the time of creation”? A third or so of his buyers on this (after removing the ones he’s keeping as NFTs) agree so it’s certainly an idea that’s in play. If that database cleans up its act and starts having its method for adding new chunks of data revolve around “who wasted the most money” instead of “who converted the most power into waste heat”, will that change any opinions? Will it be okay to resume seeing value in every object this man causes his minions to create, and using the seeing of this value as a class marker, if that happens?

Stupidly rich man created some new items for even stupidly richer people to assign arbitrary values to as a way to launder their money and/or store value in less taxable ways, woo-hoo. Now he’s added a way for these items to help launder cryptocurrency as well, and tapped a new market of stupidly rich people. Burn ‘em all, and him and his buyers with ‘em.

(And yes I typoed his name in my previous comment, I cannot be bothered to fix it.)
posted by egypturnash at 6:23 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]

Just what we needed, the high-value-art world colliding with crypto.

You're all getting the first chance to invest in my new art project. I'm going to tape a banana to an NFT and flush it down a solid gold toilet.
posted by mmoncur at 6:29 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]

I never understood the hate against Hirst.

I think it stands clear that he exploits an art market that was insane before he entered it, but within that scene, he created some remarkable modern artworks.

It's okay if you don't consider the dot paintings art, but I think most people are also overlooking what art and the art market is all about. Is Andy Warhol a great artist? I don't really think so, but he did raise a lot of interesting questions. Same with Hirst. Can you order a shark killed over the telephone? Turns out yes, you can. Art has the potential to show you how brutal life can be.

In the case of NFTs, I think "life" is probably worse than any art you could make.

PS. In case you want to get to know a different side of Damien Hirst, I can recommend reading the book "On the Way to Work"
posted by beesbees at 7:09 AM on August 5 [8 favorites]

cats of formaldehyde

This is lovely. Band name, I think.
posted by Zumbador at 7:35 AM on August 5 [10 favorites]

> It's okay if you don't consider the dot paintings art

Hirst is an artist, he's just a bad one. He's a warmed over warhol, the farcical repetition of the warholian tragedy (fine art finally completely consumed by mechanical reproduction). What's annoying about his work is that it's exemplary of an era: it's empty, pedestrian, concept art without a concept, extremely, absurdly valuable and utterly, totally sincere and without irony. If he took a shit in a can and sold it for $10 million, that would be better, since it would actually contain a thought (eat my shit you art market hogs), although it would only be a copy of a better work all the same). Even the NFT work here is so... empty.
posted by dis_integration at 7:37 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]

The only thing shitclowns like Hirst reveal is that there's a clade of fucking idiots with money and a clade of savvy grifter "artists" who prey on them. Which we already knew. There's nothing new or original about the "art" they create, it's just an endless variation of hype creation. I'm almost grateful there's AI artists now that can churn out endless copies of the same kind of garbage for half a penny of electricity. The only thing interesting about the whole toilet-circle-jerk is wondering how the grifters will pivot into it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:40 AM on August 5

A friend's brother bought one of these when they very first came out! The friend was so so sure that few if any would trade the NFT for the physical painting; I took the opposite view and we bet a burrito with 50% being the deciding percentage.

It was still majority NFTs all the way until the morning of the deadline, but I won my burrito. Thanks, Mr. Hirst.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:00 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]

Now I want a burrito.
posted by aramaic at 8:18 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]

How about a JPEG of a burrito? I heard they're going to the moon...
posted by acb at 8:21 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]

Hirst is an artist, he's just a bad one

Like most things in life, it's complicated. That diamond-encrusted skull of his is not bad art, at all. Though considering how it was made, questions of whether his artistry is diminished by commissioning work from highly-skilled artisans are legitimate. He had the idea, but if he didn't actually execute the piece personally, how much of an artist is he? That's really not an easy question to answer in an age where fine arts meets manufacturing and mass reproduction processes, even though the answer might seem obvious or easy. Because one could ask the same of Chihuly, or any other artist who has to rely on others to fabricate materials or work, e.g., those who use Corten steel, which has inherent aesthetic properties that become part of the artistic product.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 8:41 AM on August 5

I never understood the hate against Hirst.

I was with you (what's more tedious, vocal Hirst haters or Hirst) until about 5 mins ago when I saw in article some of his tweets?

First time I've read any of his own words and fuck me do those tweets have a dudebro Musk matryr energy. Reads as scammer, and that isn't helped by him releasing the most low rent, easy headline, crypto trap art for this stunt.

BUT. Is good stunt? And I still rate the shark and the room full of butterflies. But do get the hate for him now if that's how he comes across and talks about his thinking, whatever is in his soul of souls.
posted by litleozy at 9:07 AM on August 5

Where does he stand alongside, say, Jeff Koons? Or the grifty bandwagon-hopping end of post-Banksy street art like KAWS/Lushsux/Mr. Brainwash?
posted by acb at 9:07 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]

The only people making reliable money -- actual profit -- on crypto, are the middlemen.

Money laundering isn't technically profitable, but it lets you keep and use illegal money without going to prison, so that seems like a genuine service.
posted by straight at 9:49 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]

The ransomware industry probably wouldn't exist if not for cryptocurrencies. So crypto has economic positives, if you're North Korea.
posted by acb at 10:02 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Well, I think one good thing came out of it.
posted by cats of formaldehyde at 10:21 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]

^^^ Yes, a free burrito.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:24 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]

No effin' way is Hirst going to burn the 1000 paintings he kept the NFTs for.

I'll bet someone another burrito that a significant number are going to be "preserved", "rescued", or "mysteriously smuggled" into a bunch of private edgelord collections rather than consigned to the fire.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:33 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]

I belong to an organization that gets all sorts of speakers in widely divergent topics. It seems someone knew someone at one of the large auction houses whose specialty is NFTs, and they agreed to give a presentation.

As they were giving us examples of different artists who had NFT works, they mentioned someone who has been dead for many years. They explained that the works had been recently discovered on a computer that the artist’s foundation (or whatever it is called that officially manages the late artist) owned, and they had decided to make them available as NFTs.

Background note: I have been in software since … well, it’s been a very long time.

During Q&A, I asked the presenter (who, I remind you, does very big deals at Large Auction House) how exactly those NFT works were stored: on the cloud someplace (where?), on the foundation computer(s), who was responsible, and what happens if the computer stops functioning.

They told me it was a good question that they hadn’t thought about before.

I wouldn’t touch (Unix joke) these with a 10 foot pole.
posted by AMyNameIs at 11:02 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]

Ooof. I was going to add my own Hirst-loathing (and as an art school loser, I have much to share!) but seems to have been covered, so let me just tell you that I met a woman last night who was afraid of vegetables, and made me take a bite out of her hamburger where the stack of pickles placed on the side of the plate touched the burger.

'til we meet again!
posted by alex_skazat at 11:10 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]

I met a woman last night who was afraid of vegetables

Is she single?
posted by maxwelton at 11:36 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Did she eat mushrooms, though? Because I may have worked with her once...
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 11:42 AM on August 5

Is… Are the pickles going to… Is the vegetable contagion going to like turn her burger into a pickle or something?

I know irrational fears are irrational but. Whuh?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:45 AM on August 5

I think most people are also overlooking what art and the art market is all about.

Money laundering and tax evasion?
posted by star gentle uterus at 11:47 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]

But... but... an NFT is absolutely, no question at all, **NOT** a piece of art. It's a receipt for a piece of art.

That's all an NFT is, a receipt. It says, and cryptographically verifies, that you paid X person Y dollars. That's it.

The artwork is completely separate from the NFT, just as a candy bar at a convenience store is completely separate from the receipt you get when you buy it.

Choosing to own an NFT rather than a pice of art doesn't even make sense. If I buy a candy bar and they say "would you rather have the candy bar or the receipt" that's not even a question most people would consider to be a question.

This is confused somewhat by the fact that some NFT's (though not all) can have a JPEG, or a reference to a JPEG, embedded. But even at that you still need to either download the JPEG to your device or view it on the proprietary NFT software to see it.

Ignoring the basic silliness of the whole NFT thing, I think a lot of the scammier shit comes from people not even knowing what an NFT is.

An NFT is a receipt.

Just remember that and everything else gets a lot easier to understand.

So yes, people prefer having a thing instead of just having a receipt for the thing. Big susprise.
posted by sotonohito at 1:29 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]

I wish Dave Hickey were alive to weigh in on this.
posted by Ayn Marx at 1:53 PM on August 5

Is she single?

I sure hope so, but I didn't technically ask her before she drove me home.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:57 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

Count me among those who was ready to read this as art about the art market: what causes value, object - vs - representation of object, the superficial uniqueness of the randomized colors, etc etc. It’s not infertile territory; a bit overused lately (Ai Weiwei’s vase, banana taped to wall, shit in a can…) but not, like, indefensible.

Until I read his tweets. Everything interesting I can think of to read into this artwork, he doesn’t seem to give a hoot about; literally his whole point seems to be the most boring interpretation available: “which one will be worth more???”
posted by ook at 2:29 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

Fools won't likely buy your convenience-store receipt. Can't say the same about NFTs.
posted by achrise at 2:42 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Fools absolutely would buy a convenience store receipt if Damien Fucking Hirst told an assistant to draw a sharpie dot on it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:57 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Look at at this way: if crap like this wasn’t soaking up money, that money would be down at the grocery store fighting you for the last head of lettuce — and it would win.
posted by jamjam at 3:17 PM on August 5

Damn. So every time a rich person buys something useless, there's that much less money bidding up the prices on stuff people really want and need. That is really dark.
posted by straight at 2:34 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

As far as I've seen there's really not an easily-drawn correlation between excess income among the well-to-do and the retail price of everyday perishables, although I'm sure there are knock-on effects from things like NFTs. For which my favorite analogy is "let me sell you the receipt for the disposable lighter I'm using to set the forest on fire."
posted by aspersioncast at 7:03 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

I am also baffled that anyone would have trouble understanding why people dislike Damien Hirst. What's to like?
posted by aspersioncast at 7:06 AM on August 6

What's to like?

I get the well-deserved skepticism of Hirst; but, honestly, his butterfly mandalas.
posted by barrett caulk at 7:22 AM on August 6

Damien Hirst’s work carry questions about the relationship between art, its value and its price, whether or not the actual guy is... objectionable.

Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst’s work all operate in the same zone: the sanctification of the profane, the valuation of the valueless, Maurizio Cattelan’s gaffer-taped banana being its most succinct expression. I think also of Piero Manzoni’s canned artist’s shit. Artists have been doing that for a long time. It is a bit about biting the feeding hand. How far does it go beyond the obvious puns?

I remember seeing a Damien Hirst video in 1999 on a monitor in the lobby of a museum retrospective of the (at that time, still relatively) new wave of young British artists.

It was a 30-second loop (the standard length of a TV ad) in which Damien Hirst, equipped with a large revolver, starts by saying that he likes life, then systematically going through all the ways one can shoot oneself with a gun, commenting in a deadpan voice about the pros and cons of each method. “Click” went the gun between each explanation, click, click, the video switching from on a angle to another every 5 seconds until the end, when he settles on the right method.

I remember at the time being struck about how high the production value of the video was, but that was it.
posted by L E M M at 10:50 AM on August 6

That is well fucking specious, yeah?
posted by acb at 3:34 PM on August 6

I get the well-deserved skepticism of Hirst; but, honestly, his butterfly mandalas.

I didn't have a positive reaction unfortunately.
I want to know where the butterflies are from, and how they were killed? My Googling skills didn't reveal this.

The famous pickled shark was hunted and killed at his request. I guess the other sharks he exhibited were as well?
posted by Zumbador at 10:37 PM on August 6

So, most people understand as much about art as they understand NFTs?

Regarding the artist: I like some of Hirst’s art despite the fact that he might be an asshole. I’m sure an artist like Picasso…

I think it’s an interesting question if a receipt is worth more than the art object.

Personally, I would keep the art object… and then burn it, and film it and then make that into and NFT and then burn that.
posted by beesbees at 1:07 AM on August 7

Was he always going to keep 1000 of them or did he decide that when it didn't look like it was going to sell out in one year?
posted by RobotHero at 7:07 AM on August 7

Zumbador, I feel the ethical itch with the pieces, as well. Which seems to be an element of much of his work, provocateur that he is. This article claims the wing are sourced from commercial butterfly farms, but offers no citation for the declaration. But in this instance, Hirst wins, because I find their beauty compelling and, seeing them IRL, would no doubt be enthralled. And even moving me to question the ethics of my aesthetic reverie makes the work effective, for me. He’s a tricky artist like that. And many find them to be easy (or even dirty) tricks to play on viewers. Fair enough. But it resonates with me and I find myself defending his art even as I recognize that he sucks in a lot of ways.
posted by barrett caulk at 7:34 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

A paper receipt is a somewhat unconventional canvas. If a famous artist draws a smiley face on it, it becomes an artwork, or at least collectible. (Same goes if a rock star signs it or similar.) An entry in a database does not have this property.
posted by acb at 8:28 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

I like some of Hirst’s art despite the fact that he might be an asshole

The negative response I had to his tweets weren't because he was an asshole, they were because they revealed that the parts of his artwork I thought were interesting were apparently just in my head; I was giving him too much credit. Disappointing. The "is the receipt worth as much as the art" is just... I mean "what makes art valuable" was a provocative question back in 1917 but maybe not so earthshattering an insight today?

(Picasso is an interesting example for you to have chosen; personally I've always thought the quality of his work declined in direct proportion to the degree he became [convinced of his own genius | an asshole]. Funnily enough, when I went to google the old story about Picasso paying bills just with his signature or a quick doodle, look who comes up)
posted by ook at 6:45 AM on August 9

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