Are Auctions Now Taste Black Holes? Do I Love or Hate the Van Gogh-Weed Gimmick? + Other Questions I Have About the Week’s Art News

Another weird week in the news cycle.

An image of the near future of art auctions, featuring famed auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images.

This is a column where I preserve for posterity the “you can’t make this up” parts of the week’s art news.

Here below are some thoughts on four real things that happened last week…


1) The Post-Impressionism-Immersive Art-Cannabis Crossover You Didn’t Even Know You Needed Is Here

Artists rendering of Immersive Van Gogh pot experience.

Artists rendering of Immersive Van Gogh pot experience.

New York’s dueling for-profit Van Gogh pop-up experiences are the blockbusters of the summer. Neither a tidal wave of eye-roll-y think pieces nor the Delta variant can stop them. But in case you are still having trouble deciding between them, Immersive Van Gogh at Pier 36 has debuted a new unique selling proposition: it’s the one where you can smoke weed.

Imagine what this $125 to $200 special access pass to a light show dedicated to this artist who died in poverty gets you!

Seeing 15-foot-tall versions of Van Gogh’s sunflowers and saying out loud to your friend, “Whoa, those are big sunflowers!” Looking at an 80-foot-wide repeating animation of Starry Night and pondering, “Is time a circle?” Staring into the mournful twilight of The Potato Eaters and having the thought, “I could eat a baked potato RIGHT NOW.”

Soho’s Museum of Ice Cream, not to be outdone in the experience arms race, has announced a series of lavish Instagram-friendly ayahuasca evenings.


2) There’s A Very Messy Monet NFT

Screenshot of the Claude Monet NFT website.

Screenshot of the Claude Monet NFT website.

Wait… so you’re telling me… there might be schemers in the NFT space?

Not everyone got to read my colleague Eileen Kinsella’s great piece on “the first Impressionist NFT” (because it’s Pro content). Long story short: A Florida-based tech entrepreneur is selling a Claude Monet painting, plus an accompanying NFT, via NFT sales platform Rarible.

Company CEO Ariel Deschapell, who goes by the handle @NotaSithLord on Twitter, offered the following absolutely unbeatable pitch for the NFT to Kinsella: “Claude Monet and the Impressionists perfectly epitomize the pioneer spirit being carried forward by today’s cypherpunks and cryptocurrency enthusiasts.”

The catch—or the biggest catch in a story that is like a whole fishing fleet’s worth of catches—is that the people who keep track of which Monets are real have stodgily refused to agree that Spring Sunshine is actually by Monet. Which sort of undercuts the idea that the “Claude Monet NFT” perfectly epitomizes his spirit.

That’s OK though, as this even better @NotaSithLord quote explains: “The winner of the NFT will also secure the physical painting in this case, but it is the NFT that is the central value proposition. The inclusion of the physical painting merely reinforces it as the ‘legitimate’ Spring Sunshine NFT.” The statement is itself a work of art. Chef’s kiss.


3) No One Even Wants to Buy Taste Anymore

Yuga Labs, Bored Ape Yacht Club #8746 (2021). Courtesy of Christie's.

Yuga Labs, Bored Ape Yacht Club #8746 (2021). Courtesy of Christie’s.

The only reason a normal person keeps up on the auctions is to see how the richest of the rich are trying to buy a veneer of sophistication using art, and the current answer to that question is—they don’t seem to be really trying anymore? It’s been going this way for a few years now, but it really feels like we are approaching some kind of black hole of taste where everything collapses into one big mass.

I mean the auction houses are stocked with people who dedicate their lives to studying colonial silver or Ming ceramics or 17th-century Dutch art, and now their biggest push is to sell Supreme skateboard decksRichard Feynman’s bongo drums, and of course precious, precious ape cartoons. The line between Sotheby’s and Julien’s celebrity auction house is melting fast…

They already have their specialists wearing jewelry and watches on their auction live feeds to model them, as if it’s ‘90s QVC. I have this feeling that it won’t be long until when, instead of dresses and sports jackets, they’ll be doing Marvel cosplay and the auctioneer will be wearing a helmet like Deadmau5…


4) So. Much. Bad. Climate Change. Art.

Grimes. Courtesy of Undercurrent.

Grimes. Courtesy of Undercurrent.

All our worst pop-cultural images of a future seem to be coming true. But I have realized that something criminally missing from the dystopian visions of Blade Runner 2049 or Mad Max: Fury Road: celebrity artists leading the fightback with their immersive art experiences (unless you count that flamethrower guitar guy from Mad Max—that guy seems like he has thoughts about interactive art).

Last week, you had the news that Grimes was raising awareness about climate change in Bushwick—definitely where awareness needs to be raised most—with her AI-based art for a ticketed show of celebrity-created art experiences. I think Grimes, the partner of one of the richest and most influential people in human history, may have better means at her disposal to do something about climate change. But I guess the art show will do?

This week, Pace-affiliated experience-art purveyor Superblue announced that it was plotting not one but two shows of immersive climate change awareness art, in New York and London, respectively. The Shed will host groovy works of art by DRIFT featuring shimmering lights and various objects that appear to float in the air. The experience is meant to lead us to a message of environmental care, seemingly through free association.

You laugh, but just imagine—somewhere the John Connor of the environmental movement may be out there, just waiting to be awakened at the Shed via a message of “empathy towards nonliving objects.”

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