Two new visual books, “Internet_Art” and “The Story of NFTs,” explore the history and future of creative consumption online.
It’s been a tough year for physical art, with works by Frida Kahlo and Damien Hirst getting uploaded to the cloud, then incinerated. From the split-personality films of Lynn Hershman Leeson to Celia Hempton’s recent laptop-size canvases based on DMs from men, Omar Kholeif’s frantic INTERNET_ART (Phaidon, $39.95) explores how our cyberreality has shaped creative consumption since the 1960s. Alienation from the self, in Kholeif’s telling, is art’s new crisis.
As with anything online, you can’t truly own nonfungible tokens, the digital images that fetch millions at Sotheby’s yet can be downloaded by anyone for free. In THE STORY OF NFTS (Rizzoli Electa and MCA Denver, paperback, $32.50), Amy Whitaker and Nora Burnett Abrams want this new form of commerce to help artists earn fairer royalties while letting collectors buy shares in an artwork directly. The cigar-chomping art world democratized. But the book’s hopes that blockchain technology, by recording an NFT’s ownership history, will help African countries reclaim looted antiquities, or shore up a flailing democracy, sound like a joke.
Like a kneeling patron in an altarpiece, a name blockchained to a Frida Kahlo NFT signals bragging rights to the image more than it does piety to a decentralized market. I await Kholeif’s sequel 20 years hence, when the ego trap of such public ownership, this Sackler Wing for the everyman, will have given artists a whole new vista for techno-utopian satire.
Walker Mimms’s writing on art and culture appears in The Times, The Guardian, The New York Review of Books and elsewhere.