Who is Pak? The art world wants to know; The artist base doesn’t care less
The sale, which featured both unique images featuring floating geometric shapes and tens of thousands of corresponding cubes that could be traded like crypto coins, was the auction house’s first foray into the new non-token market. fungible, or NFT. The sale also stood out with art market insiders, as the creator behind it all is not well known to galleries or museums.
The fact that Sotheby’s elevated the artist with a solo sale anyway is the latest sign of Pak’s rise as a virtual art flute player – a creator long hailed by a new generation of artists. digital and crypto investors whose purchasing power could ultimately affect artistic values in general. .
Everything about Pak is purposefully opaque, as are the cryptocurrency markets that propelled the artist’s career. Pak is a pseudonym for an anonymous artist or possibly a team of creators. The artist, who the auction house says prefers pronouns he / she prefers, won’t say so – and fans online for the artist don’t seem to care. Some digital art websites such as Behance have listed Pak as originally from Istanbul. Others on Twitter claim Pak is Pakistani without providing evidence, while digital detectors in long debates on Reddit have tracked the IP addresses of Pak sites to Istanbul and Amsterdam. Pak’s avatar on social media is a zero and the artist’s nickname is “The Nothing”.
Thousands of people, like Manila-based crypto investor Colin Goltra, logged in throughout the auction just to see if Pak added any unexpected twists to the auction. “I’m sure art purists will be put off by the artist since the market is part of his performance,” Mr Goltra, referring to the artist in masculine terms, adding: “But we see him as l ‘one of ours. “
Pak agreed to speak with the Journal by telephone using a voice distortion mechanism the day before the Sotheby’s sale and to maintain regular contact via a messaging app hosted by the auction house throughout the event, which was operated on the Nifty Gateway digital platform. The artist often answered questions with gif images of smiling children, enthusiastic crowds or animated emojis. Anonymity, Pak said, has proven to be a useful way to divert the artist’s attention to art. On the other hand, the artist knows that the same anonymity appeals to his basic admirers, who often use avatars themselves.
“When I see an artist’s name, I see a face, not the artwork – so I try to separate the two,” Pak said during the call set up by Sotheby’s before the sale. “I like to be gray.”
Pak is best known for creating the Archillect, an artificial intelligence algorithm that the artist launched at the end of 2014 and which acts as a virtual curator. The AI eliminates social media feeds and posts images it deems popular every 10 minutes or so on its own feed.
However, it’s unclear whether mainstream art collectors are ready to embrace Pak’s level of the unknown. Mike Winkelmann, a South Carolina graphic designer who uses Beeple, may have caused a stir last month by selling his digital collage at Christie’s for $ 69 million (original estimate: $ 100). But Mr. Winkelmann’s backstory is relatively straightforward, and the piece he has put up for sale could in theory be printed and hung on a wall.
This is not the case with Pak. The artist, who said he trades privately in cryptocurrency, approached Sotheby’s sale as a gamemaster seeking to demonstrate several technological intricacies offered by NFT smart contracts that might confuse fans of traditional art, but were designed to appeal to Pak fans. Some digital pieces in the artist’s “Fungible” series may be made unnecessary or altered by their owners, a digital feat that is not generally touted by sellers of paintings or sculptures.
Other pieces contained hidden messages such as “I am the medium” in their coding or were given by the artist to participants who correctly solved a layered crypto puzzle or guessed in advance the sale total. .
“I like to create things that are difficult to consume,” said the artist.
Pak’s early collectors, mostly cryptocurrency investors, revel in the artist’s cryptic presence. “We’ve had thousands of hours of texting conversations, but I’ve never seen Pak or heard their voices,” said Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, a mathematician and blockchain investor who owns at least 75 NFT coins from Pak.
Eric Young, a Bay Area investor who won a 90-minute bidding war on Wednesday over Pak’s $ 1.4 million image of a medium gray “Pixel” in the Sotheby’s sale, was not the case either. Mr. Young said he had no idea what art he actually collects. “Pak is not that warm, fuzzy character,” he says. “He’s in his natural environment in the meta, and he brings his thoughts and beliefs to you” on social media platforms like Discord and Twitter, Mr. Young said, referring to the artist in masculine terms. He added: “If you can make sense of it, it will reward you.”
Historically, collectors have paid up to $ 21.3 million for works by Banksy, a pseudonym for an anonymous street artist. And museums like the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn have purchased performance pieces from Tino Sehgal even though the Berlin-based artist’s work does not physically exist and the artist refuses to sign sales invoices.
Scott Lynn, whose art investment firm Masterworks.io buys top-notch art, is concerned that NFT owners don’t inherit copyright – artists do – and yet the images remain easily reproducible. A “Basquiat that is real and rare and that I can hang in my house – that has value,” he said. “I just don’t understand what people are doing.”
Sotheby’s Managing Director Charles Stewart said he knew Pak could be a leap for his traditional clientele. But the house had to meet with cryptocurrency investors where they were already collecting, he said. In the end, 3,080 people bought works from Pak during the auction, mostly symbolic cubes of $ 500 to $ 1,500. Beeple’s $ 69 million coin easily eclipsed Pak’s overall sale, but Mr Stewart said the Pak sale demonstrates the depth of a potential auction pool at a lower entry level. “Love it, hate it, at least we’re talking,” Mr. Stewart said.
Zachary Kaplan, executive director of Rhizome, a nonprofit arts organization affiliated with New York’s New Museum that champions digital art, said he hasn’t been keeping up with Pak’s rise, but he knows the style ” The artist’s liquid finish ”is popular among NFT collectors, and it’s curious whether the art world at large will begin to embrace this aesthetic. “If these two groups of collectors line up behind these virtual artists like Pak, it will have an impact on art history,” he said.
While NFT’s prices have generally softened in recent days, the artist said he is aware that collectors will begin to sift through their favorite NFT artists, take stock and possibly add physical artwork to theirs. collections. Already big Pak admirers like Justin Sun, who founded the cryptocurrency Tron, have started collecting trophies like a $ 20 million Pablo Picasso portrait of the artist’s blonde mistress donated last month to Christie’s London. (Mr. Sun said he bought 1,686 cubes from Pak’s again in the open edition portion of the Sotheby’s sale.)
“Now I feel like we’re almost traditional, and everyone’s taking a stand,” Pak said. Rather than taking a break from social media, the artist said, “I feel like the main game is just getting started.”
Write to Kelly Crow at [email protected]
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
Is Pak the future of art? Join the conversation below.
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8