Above: “data privacy” by stockcatalog licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Creativity as currency: MoCA’s new SuperRare Space challenges the relationship between expression and commodification

The Museum of Crypto Art recently launched their SuperRare Space. Find out how they're doing and what's to come.…

Mar 10, 2022 Art

Christopher Byrd
4 months ago

Well-known leader in the conversation surrounding crypto art and NFTs, the Museum of Crypto Art (MoCA) recently launched its latest venture in the form of a Space on the SuperRare platform, marking it as the second of its kind, and furthering the realization of the SuperRare 2.0 mission of greater decentralization of the platform. MoCA, a completely virtual museum existing within Somnium Space, operates as an institution that is dedicated to the documentation and preservation of the history of crypto art, avant garde technological progress, and the advancement of NFTs as mainstays within our quickly growing collective culture. The MoCA Space will function as an extension of their already substantial collection of works and artists. Its curators; Colborn Bell, Shivani Mitra, and Micol Ap; view the Space as a platform for elevating the voices of artists who are currently represented in their collections, the ultimate goal being to showcase artwork that captures the intrepid spirit of crypto art, crypto culture, and its history. With this new Space, the curators aspire to challenge and propel imagination by showcasing lesser-recognized artists who helped carve out the ever-expanding space in which crypto art, as both a concept and a movement, currently exists. 

MoCA, which launched in April 2020, began as a conceptual project seeking to bring artists together across the metaverse and allow visitors to experience art in a virtual world. The Museum, which evolved in both concept and leadership structure over the course of 2020, would eventually grow to become a non-profit organization that could, by way of the ERC-721 Standard, provide artists with a place to display their work and earn money. While furnishing creators from all over the world with a place to bring their art together to be publicly viewed, Colborn Bell, Founder and Director of MoCA, says that the Museum also strives to be a modern institution that embraces the core values of crypto art as cultural advancement: “so, all of the philosophies that are baked into cryptocurrency, be it self-sovereignty, be it data privacy, be it every individual’s right to an open-access network for creative expression…[MoCA] is meant to almost be the total inverse of what would be conceptually thought of as a museum.”

The core of MoCA’s body of works is referred to as their Genesis Collection, and represents significant historical NFT artworks, the majority of which were minted onto the blockchain before 2021, which is when the Museum considers the concept of NFTs to have exploded into meme culture, greatly diluting the integrity of the space as a domain for artistic discourse. The Genesis Collection consists of a valuable assemblage of 200 1-of-1 NFTs representing 200 different crypto artists from around the world, such as XCOPY, Beeple, Alotta Money, Artnome, and Larva Labs. While the Museum retains ultimate ownership of these seed pieces, 50 of which can be displayed in the main museum at any given time, approximately 140 of them were donated by Colborn himself. These genesis works are meant to capture the values of both the organization and the crypto art realm prior to the 2021 NFT boom. “We call this Museum of Crypto Art because we really believe there is an art movement at play,” says Director and Curator Shivani Mitra. 

image of the Museum of Crypto Art located in Somnium Space 

There are artists of all different aesthetics and mediums who are creating things that speak to freedom, sovereignty, individuality, and autonomy. A lot of these artists actually do this artwork in countries where their governments don’t give them those things. And cryptocurrency does.

—Shivani Mitra, Director and Curator of MOCA

 

MoCA’s journey as facilitator for crypto art and crypto artists has, over time, expanded to include a robust social media presence, a library of articles and essays on the philosophy of (crypto)art spanning the last hundred years, and a decentralized permanent collection, all of which firmly solidify it as not just a historical archive of a somewhat new frontier, but a resource upon which future crypto art and artists can draw. By expanding their scope into the SuperRare network, they see themselves as being inherently antithetical to the concept of an art exchange by both establishing and increasing the visibility of art-as-expression within a marketplace, as opposed to art-as-commodity. “Perhaps we are only showing and showcasing art there, as opposed to selling it,” Colborn said. “When everything moves so fast, maybe it’s our opportunity to move slower and be more diligent, and to explain artist’s stories and processes… Ours is going to be more a space for art than what might be more commercial or gallery focused.” 

image of the Museum of Crypto Art located in Somnium Space 

As the top-voted prospect in SuperRare Labs’ first Space Race, MoCA’s Space launch was a highly anticipated event accompanied by considerable buzz, specifically surrounding what their initial minted piece would be, a secret they refused to share even with SuperRare. “I’m going to keep that quiet,” Shivani teased, prior to the launch. “But I promise we have reached out to and spoken with the people who have been the leaders of this space, of the 1-of-1 NFT art world.” In keeping with their ethos, MoCA is known to be working with a number of provocative movers and shakers within the crypto art world, some of whom have notoriously contentious relationships with SuperRare. Perhaps most notable in that regard is Robness, whose heated 2020 split with SuperRare made waves across the crypto art scene. But MoCA’s Space offers a fresh start for some of these frayed connections. Their Artist Council, which will play a large role in shaping the manner in which the MoCA Space will evolve over the forthcoming year, consists of nine collector-artists, including Robness, Sarah Zucker, Hackatao, Fabin Rasheed, Osinachi, Sparrow, MLO.ART, Matt Kane, and ARC4G.

While the lead-up to the launch of this new Space was largely positive in nature, complications did arise during the process. The first of these began, perhaps, with the inception of the proposal and how it clashed with the Museum’s core values: how does a museum maintain its integrity as an organization that strives to further ideas and conversation surrounding art, while simultaneously participating in a marketplace environment? “I want people to think less about the dollar signs and the trading of artwork for ethereum, and more about the artwork itself, as money,” Colborn expressed. “I want to continue to examine ‘what is money?’ in this day and age. How is art money? How is creativity currency?”—very appropriate questions for a Director to ponder when embarking upon a venture that has the potential to abrade the values upon which the institution was founded. Additionally, the Museum is thinking ahead to ways in which they can foster financial diversity within the crypto space. By acknowledging the monetary barrier to entry that exists with minting NFTs (aka gas fees), they are considering future ways to support artists who lack seed money for this process, eventually allowing more financially marginalized voices to be circulated and sustained by way of their platform.

image of the Museum of Crypto Art located in Somnium Space 

A more immediate and critical challenge that MoCA encountered, mere weeks before their launch, was a cyber attack on their governance token, $MOCA. A hacker was able to exploit their core teamshare, stripping them of a significant portion of their own economic backbone and placing them in the position of being forced to buy back their own tokens in order to rebuild their financial foundation. The breach will certainly delay some of the progress the Museum was hoping to make in the near future. The attack, juxtaposed against such a momentous occasion as the launch of their new Space, has forced the MoCA team to reexamine their resolve as they operate in the digital realm. When faced with the question of choosing passion for the promotion of art versus succumbing to a potentially unfixable circumstance, the team decided to double down, plunging back into the waters of championing cutting-edge creativity in crypto art with reinforced mettle.

Despite these obstacles, MoCA launched its Space within the SuperRare network on February 21, making it the second of its kind to further the realization of the SuperRare 2.0 mission of greater decentralization of the marketplace. True to form, the Museum selected an inaugural piece that references controversial moments in the history of crypto art. “pǝɹ” is a conceptually complex piece representing a loosely collaborative effort between Pak and Trevor Jones, both longtime crypto artists individually represented in MoCA’s Genesis Collection, who seek to push the boundaries of how we think about art, its creation, and its ownership.

“pǝɹ”
caption: The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.

At a glance, “pǝɹ” is a crimson square with the watermark of a physical Bitcoin centered atop, an image first introduced on Twitter by Trevor Jones after the purchase of Pak’s “red” by MoCA. Like any work of conceptual art, it is the context and postulation behind the piece that really strikes at the heart of the matter. In this case, MoCA has chosen to mint the piece with the accompanying caption: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks. #whatisart #whodecides”—a reference to The Genesis Block, accompanied by hashtags that encapsulate MoCA’s manifesto. Trevor Jones, considered by Colborn to be a “godfather of [the cryptoart] space,” very neatly dovetails with these themes when he details, within the summary of his “Crypto Disruption” collection on his website, his relationship to crypto art and its intersections with his own philosophies: 

…I’ve been focused on creating innovative art that pushes formal boundaries and adds to the creative knowledge set, that challenges and perhaps even threatens the status quo, and that encourages people to question what a painting can actually be. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are doing similar things with fiat and the financial sector. It made sense to me to try to tie this all together…

— Trevor Jones

 

Be they self-references to specific moments in MoCA’s past, glancing inferences to SuperRare’s history with more controversial crypto artists, or indistinct suggestions regarding the emotional response that cold systems like Bitcoin and blockchain technology can ignite within a human being, the myriad components that coalesce to form the entirety of what “pǝɹ” is and represents remain incredibly true to the goals that MoCA has set out for both its institution and its SuperRare Space.

image of the Museum of Crypto Art located in Somnium Space 

Now that the MoCA Space has launched, the team is able to take a bit of a breather, although their work on this new venture is only just beginning. When asked who we could expect to see represented in the Space within the coming months, Colborn was unable to provide specific names, but assured SuperRare that it would be “artists existing and creating in the space prior to December 2020.” The free-thinking Founder and Curator says that he can offer no details on real direction for the Space because he doesn’t necessarily see one, taking a go-with-the-flow type of attitude as it relates to the manner in which MoCA’s ideals will be made manifest on the SuperRare platform. “I certainly wanted that first piece to kind of sit as a play on a lot of different things that speak to the story and development of the Museum, and cryptocurrency and what this whole thing means. So I’m proud of that as a good first symbolic marker of that journey and entrance into this new paradigm, and from here we just take it slow and go with what feels natural.”

In keeping with their immense dedication to both the documentation of crypto art’s progression and their commitment to the artists their collection represents, MoCA is in no rush to create a “hype cycle” around the manner in which they utilize their new Space. Slow and steady is the way here, especially coming off of the heels of their recent token hack. The group sees the Space as a place for storytelling, and by leaning into the specific aesthetic expertise and geographic contexts of the individuals on their Artist Council, MoCA feels that they’ll be able to highlight the sectors that their council members are passionate about. “We went, pretty deliberately, to try and bring artists together that are global,” Shivani remarked. “I’m really interested, over the next couple months to speak with each of them and discuss…” She used Osinachi (Nigeria) and Fabin Rasheed (India) as two examples of this, citing hindrances due to both lack of financial empowerment and basic time zone differences as a few of the barriers preventing wider audiences from understanding the truth regarding what is occurring in their nations. 

When you look at historical art movements, you never have a financial vehicle that changes the art itself. What you do have is a certain set of conditions in society. And I think crypto is at the peak of a certain set of conditions where you have massive income inequality across the world, and it’s representing an escape. And I think artists, who are sometimes the visionaries the world needs, they’re doing it first.

—Shivani Mitra, Director and Curator of MOCA

In addition to their new SuperRare Space and the preexisting Genesis Collection, MoCA also has a Community Collection that resides on their app, currently consisting of about 5,500 NFTs. This collection, unlike the Genesis works, can be added to by any $MOCA-holding member of the community, leading to a completely decentralized collection within the Museum. The model blends well with what SuperRare is hoping to achieve with Spaces: in the same way that MoCA allows its members to activate their own NFTs into the Community Collection, thus creating substantial growth and aesthetic variety within the institution’s Permanent Collection, SuperRare Spaces will provide a scalability to the SuperRare ecosystem that would otherwise be incredibly difficult for the SuperRare team alone to foster and manage. In this way, MoCA is once again helping forge a way forward to a greater conceptualization of what art can be as it turns the marketplace on its head, a theme immediately expressed within the heading of the Gallery page on their Space: “ǝɔɐldʇǝʞɹɐɯ ǝɥʇ sᴉ ʇɹɐ oʇdʎɹɔ ɟo ʇɔǝdsɐ ƃuᴉʇsǝɹǝʇuᴉ ʇsɐǝl ǝɥʇ”.

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Collin Frazier

Collin Frazier is a Brooklyn-based writer, podcaster, and mixologist. He obtained his MFA from The New School and his work can be found in Epiphany Magazine.

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