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British artist Damien Hirst uses NFTs to blur the boundaries between art and money – Cointelegraph Magazine

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“I used to give a lot of art away to people,” reflects Damien Hirst at one of his sprawling west London studios. “And they’d always sell it after a lot less time than I thought they would. You know, they wouldn’t sell it for leukaemia treatment for their children or mother or something, they’d sell it to buy handbags. And I’d be like, ‘Damn, I hate that!’”

Hirst is not on a quest to make a few bucks from a collectible NFT. He’s not particularly interested in celebrating career highlights, or even attracting a younger, richer, snazzier audience.

He wants to know where the line between art and money is drawn. And if it can be drawn at all.

“And I suppose this whole project is like a test of that sort of area, right? I came to terms with it — it’s like, you know, when you walk downstairs in your house if you got a painting and it’s not long before the spots represent dollar signs. I’ve been thinking about that for a long time.”

Instead of allowing it to lurk in the background, his latest work brings the tension between money and art to the fore. The Currency is the name for his drop of 10,000 NFTs, each tied to a physical painting created in 2016. After the $2,000 purchase of a “Tender”, as Hirst calls them, collectors will have to choose whether to keep the NFT, which will be a high-resolution photo of the painting, or turn the NFT in for the physical painting.

 

Source: HENI

 

The Currency blurs the line between fungibility and non-fungibility, between money and art, and the project’s core choice will force each collector to make a value judgement between paintings in meatspace and NFTs. By nature The Currency raises a number of philosophical questions: for starters, what is the value of the art versus the dollar value of selling it on the secondary market? What is the value of displaying it on the wall, versus on a monitor? What is the value of portability versus permanence?

These complex, perhaps unanswerable queries may obscuring a more intimate one he’s ultimately posing to his audience, however: what am I worth to you?

First Lessons

It’s like Newton getting bopped on the head with an apple: as Hirst was first learning about art, he was simultaneously learning about the art market. 

Hirst often cites an early art teacher as a foundational influence — a “really great guy, a theatrical guy” who recruited him as Bottom in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; who fought valiantly to secure him a spot in the sixth form; and perhaps most importantly, who kept the classroom stocked with art auction catalogues. 

“From very early on, I was looking at all the items on auction, which is a good way in […] and I’d look at the prices, and I remember you could do like 10 grand, 20 grand for a Picasso or something,” Hirst told Cointelegraph. “It wasn’t a lot of money, but to me it was a lot of money at the time. Just seeing art and money in that catalogue was good.”

In much the same way a happy accident helped Newton apprehend a fundamental law of physics, Hirst grasped early on that the attainment of fame in his field meant accepting and adapting to the reality that fine art and money are inextricably linked. 

Today, his remunerative wizardry is widely renowned — even occasionally taking the spotlight from his work. He’s a master and a trailblazer when it comes to what crypto aficionados might call “pumpanomics” — the slurry of marketing, conceptual or visionary heft, and simple supply/demand mechanics inherent in scarcity that can make a project’s value soar to stratospheric heights. 

Highlights include the 2008 sale of Always Beautiful Inside My Head Forever — a complete exhibition of 223 works that, in an unprecedented move, bypassed galleries to sell directly at auction for a staggering $200 million — and For the Love of God, a diamond-encrusted platinum cast of a skull that sold for $100 million to a consortium of owners that included himself. At multiple points in his career he’s held the record for the most expensive work of art sold by a living artist; he currently sits in second place. Adjusted for inflation, anyway. 

 

Source: HENI

 

“I mean, I worked out a long time ago that, you know, if there are two people with a lot of money and there’s not a lot of something, it’s going to sell for a lot,” he observes. Where some artists accidentally ride Veblen curves to fortunes, Hirst constructs, aligns, and launches himself from them like Evel Knievel. 

Hirst and NFTs may be a perfect match for this experiment. NFTs, by simple virtue of existence, often set critics apoplectic — digital goods, they argue, don’t have ‘real’ value. Or, by contrast, there’s an emerging faction of pearl-clutchers who say NFTs paradoxically have too much value —  that they represent a perfect tool for the commodification and/or securitization of art. 

And here’s Hirst, an artist who has faced similar criticism at both ends of the value spectrum, taking these liminal notions often floating at the fringes of contemporary fine art and concocting an experiment to force collectors and critics alike to choose. 

“People get upset if I say, ‘My art is connected in a biological way to money,’ I just love it that people hate it. It just inspires me to do it. I want to look at it and see what happens. Will it do this? Can you push it this far without it breaking? Or will it break? I’ve done that in everything, in individual art and in this project.”

The ‘master of exponential growth’

In part, The Currency can be viewed as a response to a hypocrisy Hirst has been battling throughout his career — that art has always been “associated with lots of money” but “people weren’t really allowed to talk about it.”

“There’s the Van Gogh thing where you’re supposed to be a starving artist and you don’t make any money, never sell a painting. And everybody wants that. It’s a complicated thing. I mean, the thing about art is, it’s magic. You know, the whole thing is magic. You’re taking really cheap ingredients, and you put them together in a way that they become worth beyond their wildest ingredients. […] Alchemy. That’s what art really is.”

Viewers and collectors only selectively believing in the “alchemy” of art that has long frustrated him — no one “looks at the Mona Lisa and says, ‘That’s just 20 quid in canvas and paint,’” but by contrast throughout his career he’s often been asked about the prices of his sculptures relative to the cost of materials used to create them. It’s a false dichotomy that artists minting NFTs and dealing in digital scarcity are likely familiar with — and perhaps why Hirst was quick to embrace them as a medium. 

“I don’t really know why, but I didn’t have that massive resistance that a lot of people I respect have got, I saw it as a really amazing thing. I saw it like the invention of paper. It’s like, you’re arguing about paper, like ‘I’m not going to stop using papyrus!’ You’re already living in a world where you can have artworks, prints, and editions, and it seems like now you can have artwork, prints, editions, and NFTs.”

Part of the immediate comfort could be that Hirst intuitively understands digital ownership. He recounted a story about one of his sons purchasing $10,000 worth of digital goods in Clash of Clans, but even grown-up collectors are increasingly drawn to virtual expressions of ownership as well.

“In the world I was living in, where increasingly I’ve noticed all art collectors are coming up to me, going ‘I’ve just bought this, I’ve just bought this’ on [their phones] and you’re looking at Picassos and Jackson Pollocks, crazy stuff that they’ve got that’s worth huge amounts of money. And they’re sitting in bars, going ‘I’ve got this, I’ve got this.’”

As a result, he’s now pondering whether digital or physical ownership is a more powerful psychological draw — and he’s eager to force people to make the determination:

“Looking at the NFTs and the actual artwork, I look at it and I think, I don’t know, I’m excited by both, I don’t know which is most important. But then when I think about it, when I go, ‘what will people do?’ It sort of tells me where I lie, which is that most people will keep the [physical] art.” 

An ironic element to the experiment is that Hirst freely admits that he’d be relieved if the project’s technical and market elements flopped. He tells a story about a collector who approached him once, griping that he was unable to sell a painting; Hirst thought to himself, ‘Well, put it on the wall!’ 

There is a universe where The Currency Tenders, instead of being fractionalized and digitized and widely traded and living forever on the blockchain, are simply framed and hung and enjoyed — as an artist, Hirst thinks that would be a comfortable place for the experiment to end. The risk for him is in “letting go,” in knowing that collectors may take, break, sell, or even destroy his work. 

Letting go also means that the project becomes something that is “alive” — trading, moving throughout the world in marketplaces, changing hands, reaching new audiences. This effort involves the brilliance of Joe Hage, who Hirst calls “the master of exponential growth.” 

 

Source: HENI

 

Hage, who was once described by ARTnews as a “significant but rarely discussed force behind the scenes,” is Hirst’s equivalent of a CTO. Commanding a small army of data scientists, lawyers, and smart contract developers, Hage — one of the partners of Palm, the ConsenSys-backed NFT-centric sidechain where The Currency will drop — tinkered with the specifications of the project to create what may turn out to be a generous drop strategy. 

His team likely could have charged thousands more per Tender (Meebits, a project from NFT maestros Larva Labs, recently brought in over $70 million compared to The Currency’s $20 million sale) but for the thing to take flight you need to offset some of that potential gain to collectors, who are then tested by thriving secondary markets. If prices do soar, it will tempt the greed of collectors, who will have to weigh potential profits — another key element in The Currency’s broader experiment.

Cults, Gods, and Creators

Forty years after a child aimlessly flipped through a stack of auctions catalogues, in an innocuous former car park in west London there is a temple being built to Damien Hirst. Palatial vaulted ceilings capped with translucent golden windows bathe the top floor with almost cathedral lighting (“‘An Almost Cathedral Light!’ Hirst bellows at this reporter from across the park, “I like that! I’m going to use that!”). 

One day it’ll be an excellent museum, perhaps Hirst’s equivalent of The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; for now it’s one of the best private galleries in the world. When Cointelegraph visited, dozens of his cherry blossom paintings decorated the walls; French gallerist Hervé Chandès reportedly took one look and offered Hirst an exhibition on the spot. Hage notes that “less than 100 people in the world know this is here” —  many of them, no doubt, took in all that beauty and ended up eager buyers of Hirst’s wares. 

Religions need gods, cults need cult leaders, and often cryptocurrencies need founders. The founders attend conferences — yearly ritual gatherings in the major capitals of the world — where they nourish the souls of their followers with announcements, announcements of announcements, roadmap updates, new whitepapers, and even, ever-so-rarely, genuine technical improvements that (even more rarely) might offer functional utility to crypto hodlers. 

 

I am releasing “The Currency” at 3pm tomorrow (14th July 2021) on https://t.co/rO9nG5DgFa. This is my global art work experiment. It comprises of 10,000 NFT’s, each corresponding to a unique physical artwork made in 2016. Each artwork is called a “Tender”. @PalmNft @HENIGroup pic.twitter.com/ky3PbzmjhQ

— Damien Hirst (@hirst_official) July 13, 2021

 

In short, until the advent of decentralized finance and the birth of “productive” cryptoassets, buying a cryptocurrency meant speculators were buying a vision — a story about a possible future, often from a charismatic leader. 

Set aside the artistic implications and take Hirst at his word, however ironic: he’s creating a currency. This is another powerful form of magic, one which even just a few centuries ago was the exclusive provenance of god-kings and emperors. As an artist and a modern icon, however, Hirst might be perfectly suited to launch his own.

For starters, when he talks about money he talks like a crypto founder, eagerly citing David Graeber’s Debts: The First 5000 Years.

“It’s just amazing when you realize [money] is just trust. The debts get too big, then they wipe it out, and they start again, and the whole cycle goes over and over again, and people are getting ripped off continuously as well.” 

He has a keen understanding of what Charles Eisentein would call “Sacred Economies” —  the knowledge that all money is ultimately backed by nothing more than a story, that “the proclamation that money is backed is little different from any other ritual incantation and that it derives its power from collective human belief.” While critics like to call Bitcoin an elaborate Ponzi, in that respect it’s not much different than the U.S. dollar.

Me, You, and Value

But what does this mean for The Currency? Which of the two forms of magic at play — money and art — is more powerful? Unlike a traditional crypto founder, Hirst readily admits his doubts. Since he first sold a piece for over a million pounds, he told Cointelegraph, he’s wondered about the tenuous relationship between the two, and claims that if he ever discovers the money is more important than the art, he’d “stop making it.” 

“I guess I had a fear very early on that money was more important. And then, through that I’ve always tried to challenge it. But when I sold a piece for a million pounds, I got total fear. I just thought, ‘It’s not worth it.’”

In a project that seeks to raise questions about the nature of value, about art and money, about the physical and the digital, this is the most important question Hirst is now asking his audience: what am I worth

“Really it’s like a test, isn’t it? You know, about that belief. It’s like, ‘Can you believe in me? Can you believe in this? Can you really believe in this? How long can you believe in me? Does it last, does it stack up, does it spread out?’ […] I mean, I don’t know where the art ends and the money starts or ends. The whole thing’s crossed over.”

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Analysis

US senators tell athletes to avoid digital yuan, Chinese exchange volumes rebound … and more – Cointelegraph Magazine

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This weekly roundup of news from Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong attempts to curate the industry’s most important news, including influential projects, changes in the regulatory landscape, and enterprise blockchain integrations.  

Olympic battle

After months of writing about the relentless actions of the Chinese government, this week we lead with a story from the US Government. On July 19, three US senators signed a letter addressed to the to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, requesting US athletes not use the e-CNY in February’s Winter Olympic games in Beijing. The logic was that the digital currency would be traceable after the athletes returned to the US, in case China was interested in tracking foreign bi-athletes and bobsledders in their offseason training regiments. 

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian snapped back that the senators “should stop making troubles” and “figure out what a digital currency really is.” Zhao apparently believes that the US lawmakers might not be up-to-date on the latest in technology, something the crypto-enthusiasts on Twitter have been bemoaning for years. 

All sarcasm aside, this points to a growing trend of consumers being caught in geo-political struggles around technology, which could become a much larger issue as CBDCs become more prevalent. Users can choose to avoid certain hardware or apps that provide a data security risk, but avoiding the local currency will be a much more difficult choice to make. Cash use has dropped to a negligible amount in China, with the bulk of daily transactions being digital through Alipay and WeChat. Traveling or living in China without touching the digital currency will be a huge inconvenience, and one likely to not go over well with future generations.

Leading the pack

On July 19, Cointelegraph reported that Chinese Bitcoin miners had earned close to $7 billion dollars in the past year, ten times higher than miners in the second highest country, the US. This trend might be broken up slightly by the regulatory crackdown this year, but still shows the influence China has on the industry, especially if large Chinese companies can continue to set up operations in neighboring countries.

 

 

Axie Infinity’s token is taking off faster than the game in China (Source: Axie Infinity).

 

Chinese volumes bounce back

Volumes on Chinese exchanges Huobi and OKEx rebounded slightly compared to the same time last week, including on the derivatives side where the two exchanges made up around 44% of Binance’s volume, compared to only 38.7% at the same time the week before. Gaming token Axie Infinity remained a hot token for trading, and was the fourth-most traded token on Huobi on Thursday behind BTC, ETH, and DOGE. Actual gameplay hasn’t really taken off in China, and even though the site remains unblocked by the Great Firewall thus far, visits to the website are still scarce. Users from the Philippines make up 40% of website visitors, whereas China accounted for less than 3%. China boasts the largest gaming community in the world, but tight restrictions on cryptocurrencies is likely to limit the growth of public blockchain-based gaming for the time being. Speculating on gaming-related tokens, however, will likely remain a strong trend. 

It’s worth noting that in the short term, the regulations looming on the horizon makes betting on exchanges a risky proposition. Many rumors have swirled about upcoming action to be taken by Chinese regulators, particularly for repeat offenders in the area. Regulators in smaller countries seem to be waiting to see who will throw the first punch.  

Non-fungible fossils

Hong Kong’s most prominent newspaper South China Morning Post is launching an NFT platform aimed at historical news and items. This platform will let verified issuers mint and trade NFTs in an open marketplace. This should appeal to a broader audience of collectors and non-crypto native users in Southeast Asia, as well as a government interested in exporting soft power to the world. 

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Analysis

Bitcoin Crashes Below $30,000, Bear Market Or Bullish Setup?

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Bitcoin has finally crashed below $30,000 for the first time in a month after the digital asset had recovered above this point following the crash to the $28,000 range in the last month. Market volatility levels have continued to remain low while the digital asset price continues to suffer. Market sentiments seem to remain in the extreme fear range as investors hold off putting more money into digital assets.

Bitcoin continues to show bearish tendencies as, despite best efforts, bulls have not been able to drag the Coin

A coin is a unit of digital value. When describing cryptocurrencies, they are built using the bitcoin technology and have no other value unlike tokens which have the potential of software being built with them.

» Read more

” href=”https://www.newsbtc.com/dictionary/coin/” data-wpel-link=”internal”>coin out of its three-month-long decline. Breaking the critical $30,000 hold that holders have tried to keep the digital asset price. Market indicators so far continue to show that the digital asset might be headed for further decline.

Related Reading | Retail Traders Pile On Shorts, Is This The Bitcoin Bottom?

The price of the digital asset has now hit the same price that the Coin

A coin is a unit of digital value. When describing cryptocurrencies, they are built using the bitcoin technology and have no other value unlike tokens which have the potential of software being built with them.

» Read more

” href=”https://www.newsbtc.com/dictionary/coin/” data-wpel-link=”internal”>coin was at the beginning of the year 2021. Showing that this dip might be continuing on further down than the market anticipates.

Bitcoin Market Dominance Continues To Decline

Bitcoin is the first cryptocurrency and certainly the most valuable has always maintained market dominance over the other crypto assets in the market. The market dominance was well above 50% at the beginning of the year but now that number has declined to less than 50% market dominance for the Coin

A coin is a unit of digital value. When describing cryptocurrencies, they are built using the bitcoin technology and have no other value unlike tokens which have the potential of software being built with them.

» Read more

” href=”https://www.newsbtc.com/dictionary/coin/” data-wpel-link=”internal”>coin.

Bitcoin market dominance at 42% | Source: BTC Dominance Index Chart from TradingView.com

The price crash in May saw the market dominance for the digital asset take a sharp decline as other crypto-assets started to step up their game and take more market share. With coins like Ethereum slowly but surely taking a much larger market share.

Related Reading | Bitcoin Might Already Be In A Bear Market, Investors Just Don’t Know It Yet

Bitcoin dominance saw sharp declines in 2017 when other crypto assets started gaining notoriety. In 2017 alone, the digital asset saw its market dominance go down from 95% to 52%, before recovering up to 70% as the last Bear

Bear market is defined as a decreasing set of prices for various types of assets. A bearish investor wants to profit from the movement of dropping prices. You can think of a bear, swinging his big paw downward on the investment, crushing prices.

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” href=”https://www.newsbtc.com/dictionary/bear/” data-wpel-link=”internal”>bear market raged on. But now, bitcoin has started losing much of that dominance, currently sitting at 46% market dominance.

Bear

Bear market is defined as a decreasing set of prices for various types of assets. A bearish investor wants to profit from the movement of dropping prices. You can think of a bear, swinging his big paw downward on the investment, crushing prices.

» Read more

” href=”https://www.newsbtc.com/dictionary/bear/” data-wpel-link=”internal”>Bear Market More Likely Than Bullish Setup

Massive FUDs in the market might point more to a bearish trend than it does to the bullish setup. There have been debates about whether events like the China crackdown on mining and crypto bans have been a good indicator for the crypto market at large and consensus seems to be that the events will help to make digital assets even more valuable.

While things like this might be true in the long term, it seems so far to not be good for the long term. With the FUDs have come decreasing prices in the market and the charts continue to be in the red.

Bitcoin price crashes below $30,000 | Source: BTCUSD on TradingView.com

With investors still being wary of putting money in the market, the price has so far suffered. Despite institutions like Michael Saylor’s MicroStrategy continuing to be bullish on bitcoin.

Bitcoin is currently trading at $29,764, with an overall market cap of approximately $557 billion.

Featured image from Investment U, charts from TradingView.com

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Analysis

Bitcoin Bears Lose Strength, What Could Trigger A Decent Recovery

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Bitcoin price extended its decline below the $30,000 support against the US Dollar. BTC is finding bids near $29,250 and it might attempt an upside correction.

  • Bitcoin is following a bearish path and it broke the key $30,000 support zone.
  • The price is now trading well below $31,000 and the 100 hourly simple moving average.
  • There is a key bearish trend line forming with resistance near $31,300 on the hourly chart of the BTC/USD pair (data feed from Kraken).
  • The pair could start a decent upside correction if it remains stable above the $29,250 level.

Bitcoin Price Settles Below $30K

Bitcoin price extended its decline below the $30,200 and $30,000 support levels. BTC even settled well below the $30,000 level and the 100 hourly simple moving average to move further into a bearish zone.

The price even spiked below $29,500 and traded as low as $29,313. It seems like bitcoin is forming a support base above the $29,250 level. An initial resistance on the upside is near the $30,000 level. It is close to the 23.6% Fib retracement level of the recent downward move from the $31,900 swing high to $29,313 low.

The first major resistance is near the $30,600 level. It is near the 50% Fib retracement level of the recent downward move from the $31,900 swing high to $29,313 low.

Source: BTCUSD on TradingView.com

There is also a key bearish trend line forming with resistance near $31,300 on the hourly chart of the BTC/USD pair. In the short-term, bitcoin price might start a decent recovery above $30,000, but it might face barriers near the $31,000 level in the near term.

More Losses in BTC?

If bitcoin fails to recover above the $30,000 and $30,600 resistance levels, there is a risk of more losses. An initial support on the downside is near the $29,350 level.

The first major support is now near the $29,250 zone. A clear downside break below the recent low and $29,250 might call for a move below the $29,000 level. The next key support is seen near the $28,000 level.

Technical indicators:

Hourly MACD – The MACD is now losing pace in the bearish zone.

Hourly RSI (Relative Strength Index) – The RSI for BTC/USD is rising and it might soon clear the 50 level.

Major Support Levels – $29,250, followed by $29,000.

Major Resistance Levels – $30,000, $30,600 and $31,000.

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