Is Space the Final Frontier for Artwashing? Who Owns That Blue, Tiffany or Listerine? + Other Questions I Have About the Week’s Art News

Will MoMA's new merch win me the respect I deserve? Has the New York Post ever met a Gen Zer?

The launch of the New Shepard. Image courtesy Blue Origin.

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

Below, here are some questions posed by the events of the last week…


1) Oh No, Are Space-Based Auctions Going to Be a Thing?

We should be able to uncomplicatedly revile the spectacle of the Earth’s richest men, as the world falls apart, engaged in history’s most embarrassingly symbolic dick-measuring contest, all for the noble aim of…selling other rich people space tourism.

But if you heard the news about Jeff Bezos’s latest Blue Origin rocket launch last week and broke out your LP of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon,” well, cue the “record scratch” sound because….

As my colleague Sarah Cascone reports, Bezos’s Blue Origin has declared a new, art-themed social justice mission for private space flight, blasting off with three paintings by Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo. “His stunning portraits capture Black joy and the kind of shared future we hope to create for us all in space: vibrant, beautiful, and full of wonder,” a Blue Origin statement said.

The New Shepard capsule, featuring paintings by Amoako Boafo, prior to the launch of the rocket in West Texas on Thursday, August 26, 2021. Photo courtesy of Blue Origin.

The New Shepard capsule, loaded with paintings by Amoako Boafo, prior to the launch of the rocket in West Texas on August 26, 2021. Photo courtesy of Blue Origin.

Happy as I am for Boafo, I am someone who still hopes to create a vibrant and beautiful future here on Earth rather than in space. I’d say tapping “Black joy” and this painter’s cachet to promote millionaire space vacations is taking artwashing to new heights—but that would be too on the nose.

Still, these days, not even a PR stunt is simply a PR stunt without some other money-making angle. So it turns out the Boafo launch was also a promotion for something called Uplift Aerospace’s Art x Space initiative. In a mashup of The Expanse and Money Plane, Uplift promises the imminent launch (again, literally, I think?) of the Constellation Vault, “the premier multiplanentary marketplace” and “a new platform for commercial promotion and exhibition in low Earth orbit.”

Screenshot of the promo text for Uplift Aerospace's Constellation Vault.

Screenshot of the promo text for Uplift Aerospace’s Constellation Vault.

Uplift’s CEO is Josh Hanes, whose previous experience includes work with private equity, real estate, and ion propulsion systems. He’s explained that, “As part of our revenue model, Uplift will commission and sell fine art for showcase in space and on earth, engage with luxury brands and designers to create and sell products, and apply for governmental grants.”

Constellation Vault teases “the exclusive opportunity to acquire highly coveted items for private sale and auction in space, delivered upon return to Earth”—essentially hoping that objects acquire fantastical new speculative value by being shot into the air and crashed back to the ground. Soon, the proposed auction platform even hopes to achieve escape velocity: “Uplift’s new platform will later be scaled to provide goods for in-space markets.”

What, you thought that the mega-rich were going to just hole up in their climate bunkers and entertain themselves with sex robot orgies without also burning Earth’s last resources shooting their art into space for art-auction purposes? I hope that Blue Origin’s example can inspire us all to see the opportunities in this brave new world!


2) Is This MoMA Merch Cool…or The Coolest?

Screenshot of Team MoMA promotional graphic from MoMA Design Store website.

Screenshot of Team MoMA promotional graphic from MoMA Design Store website.

MoMA has dropped its new line of “Team MoMA” apparel, including MoMA beanies, MoMA sports bras, and MoMA x Yankees children’s ball caps for that special little Clyfford Still/Gerrit Cole fan in your life. Buy yours and you and your friends can casually hang out on the stoop like this cool and totally casual group of friends here, just, you know, talkin’ about modernism.


3) How Funny Is the Fight Over Basquiat’s Blue?

Definitely the funniest art-related quote of the week has to be from Alexandre Arnault of Tiffany & Co., regarding the baby blue Jean-Michel Basquiat painting featured in the company’s new Jay-Z/Beyoncé ad: “The color is so specific that it has to be some kind of homage,” Arnault explained, tenaciously pressing on despite any evidence that it was actually some kind of homage. Greg Allen has been having fun with this all week on Twitter.

By this logic, Yves Klein’s cobalt-blue body paintings must have been a conscious nod to Ikea. In any event, an Instagram user who identified themself as Stephen Torton, a former studio assistant of Basquiat’s, dismissed Arnault’s theory over the weekend: “The idea that this blue background, which I mixed and applied was in any way related to Tiffany Blue is so absurd that at first I chose not to comment.”

(Side note: outlets from the NY Post to The Source reported on this story by referring to Basquiat as a “noted anti-capitalist artist.” Not to minimize the pointed messages about race, power, and money that swirl through his art, but calling him a “noted anti-capitalist” seems me to be edging into Mandela Effect territory. I mean, he walked the runway for Comme des Garçons, painted murals for the Palladium nightclub, and his friend and collaborator was Andy “Making Money Is the Best Art” Warhol! The artist Lorraine O’Grady—who met the guy and would know—told me recently that he was best described as a “Black Bourgeois Bohemian.”)


4) Is This the Funniest New York Post ‘Kids Today’ Scare Yet?

<em>Beverly Hills 90210</em> star Luke Perry, circa 1991.Photo by Mikel Roberts/Sygma via Getty Images.

Beverly Hills 90210 star Luke Perry circa 1991. Photo by Mikel Roberts/Sygma via Getty Images.

Not really an art story, but a culture wars story. The NY Post had a piece last week about a terrible-sounding new book by Jeremy Adams, Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation. It says that eight-second attention spans, smartphone addiction, and above all a lack of religion and family values have destroyed the Nation’s Youth. Adams is very worried that zombie-fied Gen Z-ers are vulnerable to “smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity” (just so we know what to be freaked out about: teens are actually less likely than ever to have sex or do drugs or party—they are just more depressed).

The Post gravely relays the alarming intellectual findings in the book:

While only 2 percent of Americans identified themselves as “atheists” in 1984, that number was 22 percent by 2020. A college religion professor notes that when he discusses Matthew from the Bible, many students think he’s talking about Matthew Perry of “Friends.” And Luke? His students assume it’s the guy from “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

To be clear, Luke Perry is deceased, and 90210 is old enough to have spawned a next-gen spinoff. Perhaps “short attention span” is not exactly the problem at hand.

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