What Happens When Crypto Kids Watch an Art Auction? How Big Will Immersive Botero Be? + Other Questions I Have About the Week’s Art News
Plus, Microsoft gets into the Olympic games.
Curiosities is a column where I comment on the art news of the week, sometimes about stories that were too small or strange to make the cut, sometimes just giving my thoughts on the highs and lows.
Below, some questions posed by the events of the last week…
1) What’s That Sausage Roll Emoji Mean?
No doubt about it: The fun place to watch Sotheby’s art auctions last week—and believe me, I know that “fun” is not a word you usually apply to these things—was in the livestreamed comments section of Sotheby’s YouTube channel.
You will know by now that Sotheby’s on Thursday sold a copy of the U.S. Constitution, sandwiching it between two sales of contemporary art (the historical meat in a blue-chip painting sandwich). The Constitution had been the subject of a novel crowdfunding initiative by a group of thousands of crypto-currency enthusiasts, who pooled their money to make a bid via a crypto-powered fund called ConstitutionDAO.
In the end, the DAO (short for decentralized autonomous organization) was narrowly defeated by Kenneth Griffin, the finance kingpin who also happens to have been somehow implicated in the RobinHood/GameStop mess, making for a very symbolic defeat of ConstitutionDAO’s attempt to buy it “for the people.”
All the same, however, the excitement around the ConstitutionDAO drew a swarm of very-online crypto commentators to witness the obscure ceremony of the Sotheby’s contemporary auction, camped out in the comments, as they waited for the moment-of-truth sale of the Constitution.
“I’ve noticed, this chat is more active than normal,” one Andrew Gelston quipped. “Do you guys not watch Sotheby’s auctions normally?”
The meeting of two communities gave off an energy that can only be described as Illuminati vs. Deadpool. With reference to the common charge that crypto is a vehicle for money laundering, one DAOist commented: “This is how you launder money in style, not the crypto noob stuff.”
Another, speaking for many there for the Constitution, simply wrote: “Ape want document.”
Of all the esoteric practices about the Sotheby’s sales procedure, none struck the chat observers as more astonishing and strange than the use of landline phones:
Bidding for the evening kicked off with a painting by Lisa Brice. “Painted from a female perspective, Brice’s scantily clad women reverse the traditional portrayal of women as isolated and passive subjects of a domineering male gaze,” the Sotheby’s text explained in a sidebar.
“who dat she cute,” the chat weighed in, referring to one specialist bidding on the Brice. And, later, “THE WOMEN HERE ARE SO HOT OMG.”
The Lisa Brice ultimately went for $2.6 million, flattening its $300,000 high estimate. This led to an early, premonitory epiphany from watching DAO partisans, who had spent the last few days debating how much more than the $20 million high estimate they should collectively raise to snag the Constitution: “damn—if this is going for $2.5 million I really wonder what the constitution will go for.”
There were still many lots to go to find out, as auctioneer Oliver Barker thrust his torso back and forth out over the audience like a besuited cobra, summoning money with his dance. As the auction lumbered on, the line “wen Constitution” became a refrain.
At one point, Barker became momentarily distracted by a man who seemed to be wandering aimlessly looking for a seat, a sort of human metaphor for what the DAO-folk think of the art world. Barker ad libbed, “Do you need a drink? I’ll serve a drink, a sausage roll, or whatever you like.”
This, of course, immediately became a meme that entertained the chat for the remainder of the night, as the DAOers dubbed themselves SausageGang and SausagerollDAO and filled the screen with hot dog emojis and cries of “SAUSAGE RRRRRRRRROOOOOLLLLLSSSSS,” to the total confusion of late arrivers in the chat.
As for the actual art in the sale, in general, the ConstitutionDAO was not impressed. Of Nicole Eisenman: “This painting could have been found in a trash can.”
And the late, beloved Matthew Wong: “That wouldn’t fetch .05 ETH.”
There was, however, one figure who drew the acclaim of the crowd: “Honestly, Banksy is a good artist.”
The sale of the street artist’s work in Ether provoked ecstasies in the chat stream. (Sotheby’s had also advertised a watch party for the Banksy sale in the online world of Decentraland—watch it here if you have drunk a potion of immortality and do not fear wasting any of your remaining time on earth on it.)
In general, the Constitution crew took the opportunity to make a lot of jokes like, “Holy shit, they made NFTs in real life” and “are these like… physical NFTs??” and “who’s right click and saving these paintings?” and “imagine buying a painting that you can’t put in your metaverse gallery.”
It was a wild ride. Not everyone in the chat, however, appreciated the ConstitutionDAO’s style, with its chants of “BY THE PEPES, FOR THE PEPES, WE THE PEPES.” Someone named Nicole piped in: “just because you’ve all been so annoying in chat, I hope Hong Kong gets the constitution…”
As for the DAOers, witnessing an old-school human-based art auction seemed only to affirm the superiority of the new digital-art economy: “punks > this crap,” wrote one. “This entire process is making me wet for NFTs,” said the next.
But not all came away with that lesson. It seems that Sotheby’s won at least one new fan. Wrote one member of the Sausageroll Gang: “I may start watching auctions just for the sheer entertainment value.”
2) How Hardcore Is Microsoft’s Recreation of Ancient Olympia?
The ruins of Olympia in Greece, site of the ancient Olympic games, are in need of funds, suffering from austerity and, recently, wild fires. As the video below explains, they are “in need of preservation or we risk losing them for future generations.”
Microsoft has heard the call and is here to help—but just virtually.
Instead of preserving the real ruins of Olympia, the Seattle tech titan has pitched in to map the site with drones and turn Olympia into an augmented reality experience, so that visitors can pretend like they are seeing the Temple to Zeus—one of the lost wonders of the ancient world—as it might have been, all in waxy digital marble.
(Microsoft agreed to fund the AR project, incidentally, as accompaniment to a $1 billion deal to build three enormous data centers in Athens.)
Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds, as this thing is called, promises so much more than novelty. It’s like an AR reboot of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, with all its high-flown rhetoric about honoring the birthplace of Western Greatness. The initiative makes it possible, the narrator says,
to not just imagine, but literally to see, to experience, what these buildings looked like, what life was like in those times—almost like a time machine… Common Grounds is an opportunity to connect with our humanity, with the place where our values, democracy, and excellence became a way of life.
Like a time machine! Wow!
I really hope they show the part where the Olympics were played fully in the buff. And also the enormous trench-like diarrhea-pits that were used for sanitation.
Or, since we are talking about the where our modern “values” were formed, the fact that the ancient Olympic games were occasions for massive amounts of match-fixing, bribery, and gambling, not to mention the Hellenic equivalent of doping to give competitors an edge (mainly chowing down on animal testicles) and appeals to black magic to hex the enemy (mainly using “curse tablets” to call on Hades). As historian David Clay Large wrote, “It’s often assumed somehow these ancient games were purer than the modern ones. In fact, if anything they were even more corrupt, perhaps.”
Oh yes, and I’d like to see Microsoft’s homage to “the foundation of civil and just society” show that one time when the boxer Damoxenos was disqualified from the Games because he slashed open his rival’s side with his long finger nails and then pulled his entrails out with his bare hands.
Incidentally, if you want to learn about the wonders of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, video-game developer Ubisoft beat Microsoft there. The recreation of Olympia in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is more than halfway decent as a historical guide. If you don’t believe me, check out “Mr. Hinde’s Classics Channel” to see a classics prof use it to talk about the actual art and culture of Ancient Greece:
3) Are You Ready to Bathe in Botero?
The immersive art craze continues to spread up and down the art food chain like high-fructose corn syrup, making its way into everything. And the latest is… no, not immersive Frida and Diego… no, not immersive Goya… no, no, I am talking about immersive Fernando Botero.
For those heading down to Miami for the fairs, the Nader Museum has sent out a blast advertising “Botero Immersed,” a tribute to the Colombian painter of plus-sized portraiture. It promises “interactive 360-degree digital projections, lights, music, and sounds.” Plus, it’s soundtracked by the Miami Sound Machine’s own Emilio Estefan (husband of Gloria).
It is not clear yet how serious a play for the immersive-art dollar the Botero Immersed is gonna make (watch the @boteroimmersed Insta for updates). But I have hope: Botero is an artist whose literal artistic signature is bloat, so if anything, “Botero Immersed” just seems like Botero getting the Botero treatment.
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