‘What the F*ck Is This?’: Beeple Was in an Ebullient Mood at Frieze New York, If a Bit Perplexed by Some of the Art

Where he lives, he said, "no one cares about art.”

It's Beeple! He's also known as Mike Winkelmann. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

“Are you Beeple?” seemed like a pretty awkward way to approach someone at an art fair. 

But spotting the international sensation, whose $69 million digital artwork set off an NFT tsunami, in the aisles at Frieze New York was so exciting and unexpected that I just had to make sure. 

The answer was yes.

Indeed, this was artist Mike Winkelmann, 39, neat and nondescript in a crisp white shirt underneath a pastel blue sweater, black jeans, and brown shoes. His face was partly concealed by a pair of spectacles and a black face mask. Presently, he was examining Darren Bader’s silkscreen on canvas that depicted a blank email, addressed to multiple recipients, whose names made up an absurd story about a parrot in a parlor.  

“This is my first real art fair,” said Winkelmann, who lives in South Carolina and was accompanied by three men he called “collaborators.”

This was also the first art fair in New York since the pandemic hit 14 months ago. Held at the Shed in Hudson Yards, it reflected the changing times: timed tickets, temperature checks, health screenings. Those who didn’t comply were turned away. Early VIPs included museum directors Thelma Golden and Richard Armstrong, Christie’s C.E.O. Guillaume Cerutti and Miami-based collector Mera Rubell. 

Winkelmann’s first impression of the fair was a mix of puzzlement and excitement.

“The art fairs I’ve been to are usually in a parking lot, with people selling things for $20 or $30. Things like nature pictures. Where I live, no one cares about art.”

Beeple at Frieze New York looking at a work by Daniel Arsham. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

Beeple at Frieze New York looking at a work by Daniel Arsham. Photo: Katya Kazakina.

“Everything is super cool and super weird,” he said, surveying the artworks at the Andrew Kreps booth.

“But what the fuck is this?” he said, approaching a piece made of stuffed animals in glazed pots on a pedestal covered with a piece of flowery fabric by the artist Hadi Fallahpisheh. “And what the fuck is this print?” he said, looking at oil-and-acrylic work on linen by Cheyney Thompson. “I don’t know.”

Hadi Fallahpisheh, <i> Young and Clueless</i> (2021).

Hadi Fallahpisheh, Young and Clueless (2021).

In the back of the booth, a few water bottles rested on an Eames storage unit. “This could be art too,” he said laughing. 

Did it occur to him that he could buy most of the fair with his newly gained wealth? He laughed again, offering no comment.

A few booths down, Winkelmann spotted something familiar. “That’s Daniel Arsham, dude,” he exclaimed, walking over to a large eroded bronze bust of a Greek muse, priced at $135,000. Nearby, a charcoal piece by Korean artist Lee Bae also drew his attention. Priced at $86,000 it had been already sold.

He came to Frieze to scope out the scene. “If I was to show something here, what would it be like?” he asked. 

He’s thinking about doing a gallery show. “Talks are happening,” he said, declining to clarify.

It seemed like he would be happy to stay, talking and joking around, but his friends urged him to continue. Our brief encounter was about to end.

“Do I look like an anti-Christ now that you’ve met me?” he asked before moving on.

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