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August 16, 2023

The Conversation | Artnome and Cozomo

The grand patron of the House of Medici speaks to the crypto art OG about the art of collecting
Credit: Larva Labs, CryptoPunk #3831 (detail), 2017. Collection of LACMA. Gift of The Medici Collection
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The Conversation | Artnome and Cozomo
This article first appeared on Medici Minutes, a once-a-week newsletter by Cozomo de’ Medici, where his insights and musings on digital art are shared with over 31,000 artists and patrons.

On January 13, 2018, a small group of crypto nerds crowded into a co-working space in New York. The occasion was Rare Digital Art Festival — the first ever gathering of the crypto art community. It was there that the first ever tokenized digital art auction took place, leading to a record-shattering sale of HOMERPEPE (2016) for $39,200.

...That sale wouldn’t even make Twitter news today… but the idea that some wild man was crazy enough to spend almost $40,000 on a digital image, that everyone can see for free… That news rang around the world...

Media outlets went wild. In that moment, what had for years been only a meme that anyone could rip off became rare digital art. The gentleman telling me this tale of crypto art history is my guest today at Villa Medici…Jason Bailey, aka Artnome. XCOPY’s first collector. A man who has been in the crypto art trenches since Day 1. A founding leader of our movement. It’s a grand honor to share a bottle of Barolo with this true OG, who has paved the way for many of us here now. 

Anonymous (“ICQ”), HOMERPEPE, 2016

Cozomo de’ Medici: Signore, a grand honor to share a glass of vino with you. You were just telling me how you own the first ever token by the glitch don, XCOPY. How wild was that bidding war?

Artnome: Well, there was no bidding war. To be honest, literally no one cared that I got the work. You have to keep in mind that, back then, the idea of individual artists doing well with NFTs wasn’t a thing. Sure, we had CryptoPunks and CryptoKitties at the time, but there was no real market for tokenized digital art. Maybe that’s hard for most folks reading to even imagine. At the time, I was one of the very few serious art collectors in NFTs. So when I saw XCOPY’s work, I wanted to buy it just to support him. After all, it was only £1.

CdM: Wait… you acquired XCOPY’s first ever token for £1?!?

A: Yeah. And it wasn’t like I spent a pound and everyone else was like: “oh shit, he got it.” I think the work might have even sat there unsold for a few days before I picked it up.

XCOPY, DE$CENT, 2013 (minted 2018). Courtesy of the artist

CdM: That token surely is one of crypto art’s most prized possessions. But it’s worth $0 today. We’ll get to why that is in a bit, but what got you interested in digital art in the first place?

A: Prior to discovering NFTs back in 2017, I had actually done a fair amount of art market analysis through my blog. Only a small fraction of people cared at all about digital art five years ago. Prior to that, the market for digital art was pretty much a non-existent blip. There’s actually a great book called When the Machine Made Art (2014), which lists out the attacks from the traditional art world on anyone using computers to make art. That helps to put into perspective what the reception to digital art was really like. 

By the way, I don’t want any early collectors of digital art to be offended by this — they deserve lots of credit. But relative to the broader art market, the truth is not many cared about digital art until NFTs. And for good reason.

Blockchain solved major problems that had made digital art hard to collect: digital scarcity and authentication. With the power of blockchain provenance, digital art became the art of today. I was excited to help shape it, as a collector and as an evangelist.
Luis Ponce, (Still from) Reminders of the Insane, 2022. Courtesy of The Medici Collection

CdM: What do you see as the beginning of crypto art? And what was the major inflection point for this movement?

A: I was an art history student most of my life, and I always wondered what it would be like to be at the bars with the Abstract Expressionists or subverting the salon with the Impressionists just as those movements were taking shape. How cool it would have been to be there with the pioneers! But there literally is a day like that for crypto art.

It was the Rare Art Festival in New York City at the beginning of 2018, which was the moment crypto art as a movement was born — not as a practice, but as a movement. 

It was there that folks like Matt and John of Larva Labs, Bea and Judy of, Joe Looney of Rare Pepe Wallet, and many others came together in support of this movement. I’d say the inflection point was the auction of HOMERPEPE at the Rare Art Festival. Before that sale, it was completely inconceivable that anyone would collect digital images in this way. Of course, we’ve seen what’s happened since then.

CdM: With blockchain provenance and digital culture existing online, what role do you think museums play in canonizing digital art?

A: For the folks who don’t know, canonized means becoming a permanent part of art history. 

The idea that digital art has to end up in a physical museum for it to be relevant is like saying domain names aren’t going to make it because they weren’t in the phone book. 

Like you said, culture today and the context that makes these works special exists digitally. You can now get your digital art in front of millions of people seconds after you post it to the web. So if the context is online, and people can access the work in its native form online, then digital art doesn’t necessarily always require a physical home. 

I want to be very clear — I love museums and I hope that they are around forever. But let’s not overlook the fact that the ability to get digital art in front of people on their own computers, in its native form, represents a step forward in terms of accessibility.

Yam Karkai, Woman N°01, 2021. Collection of LACMA. Gift of The Cozomo de’ Medici Collection

CdM: Traditionally, the role of museums has been to contextualize, preserve, and exhibit works. But if digital works will mostly exist outside of the museum framework, how do we make sure that they are preserved for the generations to come? 

A: There’s this idea that once an NFT is in your wallet, you own it and no one can take your art away from you. That couldn’t be more wrong. This is actually a good time to revisit the first ever XCOPY NFT I acquired and why it is now worth $0. That work was minted on a crypto art marketplace called Ascribe, which I have tremendous respect for as a pioneering marketplace but which was so early that many things hadn’t been figured out yet. One of the biggest problems with Ascribe was that it stored the art on private servers. But it wasn’t only Ascribe; many other marketplaces would go on to do the same. 

When the first massive bear market hit, more than half of the marketplaces at the time shut down. Ascribe shut down. Rare Art Labs shut down. Digital Objects shut down. Editional shut down. And the art that was stored on marketplace private servers disappeared. 

So yes, while I own the first ever token by XCOPY, the art no longer exists and the token is now worth $0.
Charlesai, Fractured Museum, 2022. Courtesy of The Medici Collection

CdM: So if the art isn’t on-chain, where exactly is it?

A: People really love the blockchain and they geek out about how amazing the technology is. But in the vast majority of cases, the art isn’t even on-chain

Fewer than 10% of NFTs on Ethereum are actually on-chain, which means that the art and metadata are fully on-chain, instead of linking out to a private server or storage service like IPFS. 40% of NFTs are a token with a link pointing to an artwork on a company’s private server. If that company goes out of business, you now have a token in your wallet pointing to nothing — you’re screwed, and you can’t do anything about it. The remaining 50% of NFTs use IPFS, which is a distributed file-sharing system. If you have a backup of your art hosted on IPFS, then you can restore it should you need to.

Grant Riven Yun, Life in America, 2023. Courtesy of The Medici Collection

CdM: Most of my 1/1 purchases are stored on IPFS, as they were acquired via SuperRare or other such platforms. What could possibly go wrong?

A: That’s great, but Coz, companies like SuperRare pay IPFS to “pin” the art. If SuperRare stops paying IPFS, you won’t be able to go on OpenSea or any other marketplace and actually see the art. 

In an ideal world, not only will you have backed up your art, you also won’t rely on a single marketplace to pin the art. After all, isn’t the point of digital art to be visible anywhere, anytime?

CdM: Very true, signore. So, which of my works are screwed? And which ones can I save?

A: This is what we’re building with ClubNFT, a one-click solution to diagnose and back up your NFTs. All you need to do is go to our website, put in your wallet address, and get a free assessment. 

Our free tool gives you a sense of how many of your NFTs are at risk, but also just how much money is at risk.

CdM: The idea that my works could be safely stored in a cold wallet but could still end up worthless is scary. This feels like the trojan horse that no one is talking about. How can I protect my JPEGs?

A: Well, that’s the easiest part. In just one click, ClubNFT will backup all eligible artworks in The Medici Collection. You can sign up for a yearly subscription for just $17 a month.

CdM: Okay, I’m signing up as we speak. I clicked “protect my collection,” signed up and that’s it? This feels too easy…

A: Haha yeah, I’ve heard that before. For that $17 a month you’re paying, not only do we backup your NFTs, you also get access to our NFT valuation tool, automated NFT pinning, artist discovery tool (Tezos), collection insights, 24/7 protection of your collection, and so much more…

CdM: You’ve sold me. I’m glad the Collection de’ Medici is now backed up with ClubNFT. Now tell our readers how they can sign up.

Artnome: Thanks for the trust, Coz.

Artnome: For readers of the Medici Minutes we are offering a 15% discount when they use the code “MEDICI” at checkout. That brings the price down to about $14 per month. That’s 50 cents a day to protect a collection that might be worth thousands or millions of dollars one day.

CdM: Signore, it was a pleasure speaking with you today. Grazie mille for your relentless service to the crypto art movement.🍷⚔️

Protect your NFT collection and discover new artists with ClubNFT

Cozomo de’ Medici is a pseudonymous collector, investor, and thought leader who has become one of the most popular and prominent names in the digital art community. The Medici Collection includes defining works of the digital renaissance, such as XCOPY’s Right-click and Save-As Guy and Some Asshole (Both works 2018), DeeKay Motion’s Destiny (2021) and Life and Death (2022), Sam Spratt’s I. Birth of Luci (2021) and VII. Wormfood (2022), multiple elite CryptoPunks, and “God Mode” Fidenza #938 (2021) by Tyler Hobbs. These sit alongside many unique 1/1 works from diverse and emerging artists across multiple chains.

Artnome (Jason Bailey) is the creator of the art and tech blog and founder of GreenNFTs and ClubNFT, where he serves as CEO.

This article first appeared on Medici Minutes, a once-a-week newsletter by Cozomo de’ Medici, where his insights and musings on digital art are shared with over 31,000 artists and patrons.