When Beeple’s Everydays NFT sold for an earth shattering $69 million during a Christie’s auction earlier this year, the art community was forced into a philosophical reckoning.
What is the value of art? Can artwork exist solely in virtual spaces? Who determines the value of pieces?
Everdays featured a collection of 5,000 daily artworks that took Beeple over a decade to create, merged into one massive digital document. The sale propelled NFTs into mania and mainstream, while raising the profiles of Beeple and the buyers of his file on blockchain.
Twobadour and Metakovan, two obscure digital avatars hailing from the little-known NFT collector firm Metapurse, stepped up to take credit for the purchase while keeping their true identities secret. Weeks after the sale was finalized, the duo revealed themselves as the Indian crypto entrepreneurs Anand Venkateswaran and Vignesh Sundaresan.
Venkateswaran (aka Twobadour) recently spoke with Paradox about what gives an NFT value, whether NFTs as an asset class are overinflated, and what he plans to do with his firm’s $69 million file.
Why do you think NFT prices have dropped recently?
It’s sort of bound to happen. We were in the middle of an explosion, which the Beeple sale might have contributed to. But that can’t realistically sustain the base price of NFTs when they were inflated way beyond reasonable levels.
Does that affect any of the work that you’re doing?
I don’t think so. It’s not just us and I don’t think it would significantly affect the future space either. One interesting aspect of NFTs is that they are a very resilient phenomena both as an asset class and also as an idea. This question is very similar to the “is the NFT space a bubble” question. And the answer is the same because unlike previous crypto phenomena, like alt-coins or ICOs which have gone through their own share of ups and downs, there is no domino effect as such in the NFT space. There isn’t one token where if it tumbles, it brings down the whole market; there are a lot of resilient pockets in the NFT space that will survive any vicissitudes in the market.
Do you think global equality can be dramatically improved with NFTs and crypto?
Most definitely and it’s not conjecture, it’s a fact. A lot of the stories within the cryptosphere attest to this. Metakovan’s own story, he hails from south India from the same place I hail from. There was no other way for him to have done what he did or to have reached the place he had if he had followed a conventional path or been part of the regular conventional financial ecosystem. Access to capital, the ability to be part of new and interesting hypergrowth startups, Ethereum: All those would have been impossible if he were doing anything else.
What do you think gives an NFT value?
It has a few layers to it. First off, any digital asset has value because of the narrative that it holds: it promises inalienable ownership, unlike elsewhere in the world where there’s a growing trend of authoritarianism. What you own in the real world can eventually be taken away from you, you can be bullied out of it; but you can’t in the virtual land. Each NFT, whether it’s a piece of virtual land or art, comes with that powerful sense of inalienable ownership. The other layer is utility. Once you have the NFT in your hands what are you going to do with it? The best answers to this question will ensure that the NFT that you hold contains value. If the answer is you just keep it because it’s scarce, maybe that works at a very fundamental level, which is a very eloquent way to describe the model of scarcity and simplicity. But you need more sophisticated answers to what you can do with NFTs; they have to do with utility within a platform’s interoperability. For instance, if you have an in-game asset in one particular ecosystem, you should be able to use it in others. So one, the concept of ownership. The second, the concept of utility. And the third, you should be able to sustain a narrative around that NFT because the base impacts an origin story and an intent behind it. If you have a narrative that can sustain and look above the economic models and the agility of that NFT then it packs in value.
What are you going to do with the Beeple NFT?
We still haven’t figured out a way to display the piece. It’s historic, it’s iconic, we need to build a stage for it that fits the importance of this piece. Whether it’s in America or in India.
Do you envision a future that combines digital technology with other experiences that traditionally aren’t in the virtual space like Cryptovoxel where you can virtually browse a museum?
Definitely, definitely. I won’t go as far as to say that everything is going virtual, that would be silly because the virtual space is limited to only satisfy a couple of your senses. For the rest, you do need to live in the real world, so I think the virtual world works as a catalyst for people to meet and connect and then take that connection forward in the real world.
Do you think with NFTs there’s a risk to the artist that it becomes abused for purposes of accumulating wealth rather than preserving the artistic value?
I think that’s true of any work of art really and in a sense the conventional art market is an actual business in profiteering at the highest levels. What the crypto art space does is to enable these artists to actually make a living out of art and also guarantee royalties in a programmable and enforceable way which does not exist in the conventional art space. In a sense the answer is yes, but the intent is completely the opposite. It’s a more noble way of engaging with art.
Do you think culture driving the NFT markets makes them more or less predictable?
I don’t think it makes it more or less predictable, but it does make it more dependable I’d say. Think about this: You’re dealing with a bunch of tokens which go up and down in value and you typically have no idea why but you’re sure that it’s market driven rather than bumped up by other factors which are completely contrarian to what’s happening. So if the token you hold in your hand completely loses value you’re left with absolutely nothing. With NFTs on the other hand, you buy it because you connect with it because if it’s art, it makes you feel this connection. Because you love the fact that that slam dunk resonates with you. So even if you can’t sell it, you still have this piece of art that you bought because you enjoy it.
How do you feel about social media?
It’s an important and essential part of NFT culture right now, most of the communicating and flexing happens on Twitter. It’s a really vibrant space.
Do you think some of the politics of social media can affect the NFT space?
Yes, but that’s true across the spectrum. There are safe spaces where you can talk freely without fear of censorship. A lot of artists have adopted those environments as well.
What are your plans for the future?
Our immediate plan is to build this space around the Beeple 5000 that takes the conversation forward. The overall goal is to continue what we’ve been doing so far which is to be bastions of culturally significant lens.
You’ve said you’ve adopted humble lifestyles, does that tie into your business philosophy or with NFTS? If you have 69mil to spend on art, why not buy lambos and mansions?
We have more faith in digital assets than we do in real world assets. Having a particular lifestyle locks you down, it makes you less portable, it makes you less light on your feet in case you need to move around. That’s the way of life for maximalists who are content with the current set of assets they have. Maximalism is lazy: If the idea is to build your wealth, you can’t stick to a particular lifestyle.
I think it also comes down to the circumstances of our upbringing which informed these kinds of decisions. You don’t need much to live a comfortable life where we come from. But we do need room to explore lifestyle, we need room to see more of the world and how it works. That’s how we view wealth: Wealth is fungible, it has its purpose, it’s not an end in itself.
You guys are offering 100k for a writer to write about NFTs. What are your goals in that project?
One of the most important things about this space is pushing narratives. I’ll give you an example, a large group of people on-boarded onto this game called Axies Infinity. If you win, you could get in-world tokens and so they escaped what was almost short of poverty by playing a crypto game. Stories likes these need to be told and when they are they open up new doors and new ideas into how you can approach life. That’s the whole point of opening up this program.
You want to show people of color they can be patrons, do you think they are disadvantaged in a way where they’re not exposed to these spaces?
Wouldn’t you say so? What happened with the Beeple sale is that it broke three global notions in one shot. First, it brought digital art firmly into the mainstream, even though it has existed for over twenty years now. The second is that the buyers of this piece are from the crypto space, it instantly puts that on the map as well. Usually the people who buy high art lock it up in ivory towers outside everybody’s access. We can’t access those ideas as easily; we have to look at a distance and contend with the fact that we can’t understand it and we might not be worthy of engaging with it. So this notion was broken by the fact that the people who bought art were from the cryptosphere. The third notion is, when you think of wealth and accomplishment, who can have influence in the world, the person you conjure in your imagination is usually not a person of color. So we deliberately started off using our pseudonyms then broke open that shell and revealed who we were. We broke all of these three notions in that one incident. We didn’t set out to do so, nobody knew that it would go for 69 million dollars. If it stopped at 10 million we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but here we are.