Kenny Schachter Reflects on the Past, Present, and Future of Blockchain Art

With crypto in a state of turbulent flux, a demographic of non-fungible token (NFT) detractors in the fine art world might feel ready to finally trigger the industry to declare for the count.

Meanwhile, artist, critic, dealer, educator and avid NFT supporter Kenny Schachter celebrates the conclusion of Slow Food – his first New York art exhibition in 25 years – at the NFT Gallery in the Lower Manhattan’s East Side, fresh off the headliner. NFT Art Day ZRH in Zurich, Switzerland, coinciding with the iconic annual art fair Art Basel, less than 80 km away.

In June 2022, Schachter had just presented the first-ever NFT booth wall at Art Basel with Galerie Nagle Draxler, widening the acceptance of NFTs just before profile pictures became the face of their demise. Soon after, Schachter was spotted among the art world’s elite in Hydra, Greece, celebrating sculptor Jeff Koon’s first token fall with the Pace Gallery.

Schachter told Cointelegraph that while his commitment to the intersection of blockchain and art hasn’t waned since then, “it has hardened.” The controversial art world agitator hails from a working-class family on Long Island, New York. He studied philosophy, then law – worked in fashion and in the stock market – before setting foot in his first art gallery in his late twenties or making a name for himself as a market journalist. art. Schachter became an artist before the turn of the millennium, exhibiting his first computer animation in 1993 and producing digital prints over the next decade.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m involved in art,” Schachter said. “That’s all I care about, more than almost anything, except maybe my kids.” Rather than summarizing Schachter’s full body of work, Slow Food, which closed on June 17, focused on the artist’s most recent forays into blockchain: a collaborative and evolving reflection titled Open Book, its new blockchain-based game. Principle Pop, and a sculpture on the insidious trend of dinosaur bones being sold at art auction houses. An NFT accompanied each artwork – underpinning them all.

Overcome booms and busts

When Schachter caught wind of NFTs in 2020, he dismissed them as another form of money before acknowledging solutions to the difficulties of his practice — wrapped in a blockchain arc.

Of course, digital art has long languished without a convenient way to sell and trade it. A number of galleries offering digital artwork in their stands at Art Basel from 2022 were still handing over the pieces after purchase as a file on a USB drive, authenticated based on file size.

Even before NFTs, digital art had been pigeonholed like other mediums, such as performance. Although NFTs only rose to fame once artists started making big money, Schachter saw a greater chance of expanding his audience beyond the narrow-minded art world. .

Several standalone works of art complemented Schachter’s major projects through Slow Food, such as “NFT Gimmicks,” a two-part piece including an art print that immortalized a sarcastic tweet Schacter made in response to the Dot Pigeon’s April announcement that the artist was leaving NFTs due to speculation – alongside the actual balaclava Schachter is seen wearing in the post.

Artwork “NFT Gimmicks” exhibited in Slow Food. Source: Vittoria Benzine

“First of all, he probably made millions from his NFTs,” Schachter told Cointelegraph of Pigeon’s decision to grab headlines. “If I sell an NFT, whether it’s $5 or $25,000, it’s a social contract between me and the collector. I have an obligation to support what I have done. He noted that Crypto Mutts, a collection of profile pictures that Schachter founded to poke fun at the Bored Ape Yacht Club, will likely end up in his will, to ensure the project’s survival after he isn’t there to maintain it. .

Money is good, but Schachter swears up and down that’s not what drives him — he recently opted to waive resale royalties. Instead, the artist emphasized that her faith rests in the community NFT builds around her practice and the connections the space lends itself to.

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The artist had to learn blockchain quickly in his efforts to get involved. He initiated a virtual mentorship with an avid NFT collector and a Singapore-based Google executive. “Every two or three weeks I would sit there like a child with a pen and paper,” Schacter recalled of their sessions. “I ended up making him an artist, putting him on an NFT show I hosted at Nagle Draxler in Cologne in 2021.”

Likewise, Schachter’s large-scale projects through “Slow Food” require people to make them work. Open Book started last summer when he was a co-author The NFT Book. Inspired by the social media responses he received while helping write the book, Schachter organized 20 disparate artists to contribute positions on NFTs — some positive, some critical — for Open Book. These quotes have swung across Slow Food screens, including some from Schachter himself. The show has allocated a room for guests to contribute before it goes live on the NFT Async Market this month.

Schachter calls the project “a book that has no end, or middle for that matter. But there is a beginning. It tells the story of a field that is radically changing in real time. »

Play further

His blockchain game, Principle Pop, runs on premium digital art streaming service and collection source Dataa. It took shape in early 2022. Originally titled Digital duel: Crypto vs Canvasthe new iteration of the game pits teams of vocal NFT supporters and detractors from the fine arts world – artists, writers, curators, dealers and influencers – all against each other.

Each round of Principle Pop will introduce new teams with new characters on each side, all available mint in Open Editions. Collectors strike as many of their favorite characters as they can afford in order to support that character and their team. Whichever team gets the most mints, the real crown goes to the collector with the most copies of the winning character – that collector gets a unique sculpture of Schachter in real life. Celebrate principle of pop In the inaugural round, which ended on June 17, the top 50 holders all received an NFT dropped.

“The concept evolved from a battle to a reflection of the fact that life – in art and beyond – has been reduced to a popularity contest,” Schachter said, “measured by likes, followers and the money”. Although there’s no role-playing or hand-to-hand combat, it was fun to watch art dealer Larry Gagosian, who some consider the gallery to be the evil empire of the art world. art, throwing stacks of bills at opponents like famed artists Refik Anandol and Beeple, in a montage featured at Slow Food. Sculptures of the tour’s protagonists punctuated the show – Beeple greeted visitors, while teammates Anandol and Nigerian artist Osinachi chatted with the tour’s only neutral party, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, near the back a spectacle.

Sculptures of Osinachi, Obrist and Anandol at the back of Slow Food. Source: Vittoria Benzine

The characters all had big eyes, attention to detail, and a real sense of life. They resembled Schachter’s distinct take on infamous artist KAWS’ signature style, though the artists were notoriously grumpy about being compared to one another. Schachter’s benchmark manufacturer in China has brought its digital designs into a standalone 3D existence.

Perhaps surprisingly, David Hockney has yet to consider Principle Pop. In 2021, Hockney, the most beloved living painter, called NFTs “dumb little things” for “swindlers and crooks”.

However, Hockney’s recent series of iPad drawings — the subject of a high-profile exhibit at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan, in the winter of 2022 — would likely benefit from blockchain elements.

“Would you rather own a photograph that went out for $100,000,” Schachter asked, “or would you rather own the hi-res file he made it from, in which case you could do a tapestry, you could do a painting in China for $100 you can make a photo or a lightbox or a projection or keep it on your phone, do what you want? »

This is precisely how “Missionary Position,” a tapestry featured in Slow Food depicting Mother Theresa in a dress adorned with Ethereum insignia, was born. Schachter got in touch with an Albanian craftsman through his network, who turned his digital design into an art object.

“Missionary Position: ETH (tapestry version)” by Slow Food. Source: Kenny Schachter

The fine arts recede – even from practical applications

NFT art may never explode at the same rate as it once did. Schachter says that’s a good thing. This could benefit the space by shifting attention away from the very behaviors of the traditional spheres of art and finance that NFT proponents claim to be trying to counteract – putting the focus back on possibilities. Blockchain offers many practical applications relevant to fine art beyond hype, revenue, new audiences, and new understandings of art as an idea rather than an object.

For example, it can create an irrevocable record of provenance, which could foster a little more transparency about how many hands — and perhaps which — an artwork has passed through.

Why, then, are some art industry figureheads eager to dance on the blockchain grave?

“The art world is like a smelly dog ​​peeing on a tree,” Schachter said. “When they see another dog walking by, the first thing they want to do is piss on the piss the other dog just made. When the art world sees a new medium, a new technology, it sees platforms that fully function without their input, they become very defensive and very territorial.

“Art is a zero-sum game, in general, where one person or entity succeeds at the expense of another.”

More money for Nifty Gateway means less money for galleries unless they build new audiences. But art is ephemeral, relational. Prizes are based on previous prizes and fame comes from proximity to superstars. There’s a lot at stake in the ruse that these emperors are dressed in.

“When I discovered the art world, the first impression I had was people swinging at the chandelier, drinking absinthe and going to orgies,” he said. . “Boy, was I for a slap in the face.”

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It doesn’t matter, though. Schachter advances. “Slow Food,” he said, was an essay for his first solo exhibition at the Francisco Carolinum in Linz, Austria, which opens in September.

“Nobody gave me a goddamn show when I was in the art world for 30 years,” Schachter balked. “I was offered a show and found success in the NFT space. In the art world, success affirms success. By any means necessary, will I pursue my interests and goals.