In defense of web3: A weekend on mushrooms with a whale art collector

In defense of web3: A weekend on mushrooms with a whale art collector

Gabriel Santos at home.
Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine

In defense of web3: A weekend on mushrooms with a whale art collector

3 months ago

This article is part of a series

It’s Friday afternoon at Customs and Immigration in the Monterrey, Mexico airport. Metal fans atop prefab walls recirculate a mushy ball of hot breath as dozens of travelers line up to use a single pen. One by one, we’ll discover it’s empty.

I tell the immigration officer that I’m here on vacation, which is a lie, before walking with photographer Nain Leon to the private car that awaits us outside. The chauffeur, Carlos, puts an address in San Pedro Garza García – the richest municipality in all Latin America – into Waze and offers us a beer from a Rubbermaid cooler. I decline. I’m saving myself for the hallucinogens.

Leaving the airport with Carlos.
Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine

I’m in Mexico looking for answers.

For many, the cryptoart movement can be seen as a prototype: If blockchain can circumvent closed-door cronyism by decentralizing art markets, perhaps there’s a model here for undermining complexer forms of financial corruption. If NFTs can revolutionize art, could Bitcoin overthrow fiat?

Certainly, cryptoart has succeeded in undermining traditional art world gatekeepers. And now DAOs (including SuperRare) are pioneering new forms of community governance that, if all goes well, could lead the way for disruption of governance structures far broader in reach than tech platforms and investment funds.

And yet, for all the talk of decentralization, things still seem pretty centralized. As of last year, 80 percent of NFTs were owned by nine percent of collectors and 95 percent of Bitcoin was held by two percent of accounts. Amid major DAOs, as of July, less than one percent of members held 90% of voting power. 

Is Web3 really creating a more equitable world, or just another playground for the rich?

“You should talk to Gabe,” said Casey Coyle, SuperRare Labs’ Collector Programs Manager, when, with this question in mind, I expressed a desire to profile a “whale” art collector – a term used to describe individuals holding a large amount of crypto assets and artworks. “He lives in Mexico, and loves to talk about art.”

“And he eats a lot of mushrooms,” he added.

So here I am: staring out Carlos’ window at the exhaust fume-coated walls of this corruption-fraught industrial city. If Monterrey were an American Baby Boomer, it would love Ronald Reagan. Here, wealth follows geographic contours; rising through dense smog on the backs of slum-dwelling factory workers past white collars toiling in tall buildings to the streets of San Pedro Garza García, where Lululemon-adorned joggers suck air so fresh it borders on sweet. 

I’m reminded of Aspen or Vail – a place where the rich come to play – and I’m wishing I’d drank that beer.

View from our hotel in San Pedro Garza Garcia. Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine

San Pedro Garza Garcia” by AmateurArtGuy is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

The unbearable lightness of being rich

It’s 7PM before Nain and I have dropped our bags at the hotel and walked across the street to meet Gabriel Santos Elizondo, or Gabe, at an upscale Japanese restaurant. Clean shaven and fit in an Astros cap, large silver watch, and denim coat, Gabriel is dressed like a baseball fan who can afford box seats. He sits alone in the amber glow of the back patio and greets us with enthusiasm.

Wealth is on display all around us, and the cuisine is no exception. Gabriel orders for the table. He speaks with a passion for cryptoart while, at moments, pausing to admire our surroundings. He’ll point out the beauty of the interior design, or of the women.

It becomes clear that this restaurant, this table, these beautiful patrons: They’re no coincidence. Gabriel has curated this experience. I come to think he curates most experiences. I see a man cultivating an evolving aesthetic, like a photographer forever composing the frame of his mind’s eye. Our waiter brings a bottle of sparkling water and Gabriel requests another with a more minimalist label.

“Much better,” he says.

At lunch with Gabriel the following day. Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine

At lunch with Gabriel the following day. Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine

He has with him a small green box labeled with a serpent eating its tail. Inside is a block of psychedelic mushroom-infused chocolate. We all indulge.

Soon sweat pours. Laughter deepens. We discuss collecting art that speaks to Gabriel visually and viscerally, and how mushrooms can open up those connections. Lines of symmetry become apparent in our surroundings. I see beauty in the negative space. The color spectrum unfolds like a peacock. It bends in the low light.

Gabriel speaks of community-building, and his passion for the “rising tide lifts all ships” cryptoart ethos. Yet, he admits, beneath such warmth there is the hunger of a shrewd businessman – a snarl he fights to stifle, or perhaps to hide.

We eat more chocolates.

Mushroom-infused chocolates. Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine.

Mushroom-infused chocolates. Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine.

Gabriel pays the bill and we get in his Porsche Cayenne. It smells fantastic. Passing through San Pedro’s richest neighborhood, Colonia Del Valle, we arrive at a 25 acre private residence on the neighborhood’s edge where he and much of his family have long lived.

The gates open and we drive past fashionably-lit mansions beneath a lush canopy. Gabriel’s mother lives here. She too is an art collector, with the likes of Frida Kahlo having basked her walls.

Arriving at Garbriel’s home.
Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine.

Inside Gabriel’s grand mansion, we sit surrounded by large physical artworks, squinting at his cryptoart collection on a 13” Macbook.

Gabriel lays out his art collection strategy. He starts by building relationships and lending advice. If the artist seems like a fit, he’ll offer his guidance, connections, and economic might: tools that open doors at platforms like SuperRare and drive value in the market. In exchange, he wants art for his collection – a seat at the table – and, perhaps, a cut of the artist’s sales.

Hours later at the hotel, Nain and I will admit to both being too afraid to dry our hands with the bathroom’s disposable embroidered towels.

Exploring Gabriel’s cryptoart collection on Saturday afternoon.
Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine.

The awkward puberty of cryptoart

The arrival of whale collectors to the cryptoart scene represented a new phase, an all but unacknowledged evolution shrouded by the money that came with it.

In the early days of 2018, cryptoart was an outpost for outcasts. It was a space where hungry artists (particularly digital artists) who’d struggled to find recognition from the traditional art world saw hope, where technologists obsessed over the possibilities in digital asset ownership, and anarchists saw a prototype for undermining power structures through crypto. There was a focus on building community as much as on selling art. Crypto’s promise had found a proving ground: If web3 could render art world bureaucrats obsolete, could blockchain tackle bigger structures?

Then came the money.

Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine.

Speculators, whales and overpriced collectibles swarmed the space. Artists became millionaires. Few stopped to think that, besides JPEGs, what money bought was power. As whales’ motives came to shape markets, cryptoart risked recreating the very problem it had intended to eradicate.

Like police arresting a Mexican cartel boss, had cryptoart created a vacancy instead of a solution?

Today, the market is highly competitive. Often, young artists desperate to connect with high end collectors look for guidance or representation. They look for someone to put them on a collector’s (or a platform’s) radar – someone like a gallerist.

“I’m a businessman and I think of artists as business partners,” Gabriel told Nain and I. “Jake Fried, Mr. Misang, those are big fucking companies. Just being around watching, just being able to make suggestions, it is like I’m on the board of a Fortune 500 company and they are asking for my input. They’re that important to me. I’m strategic with my investments, but I’m investing in what I love.”

#10. Pantheon” by @mrmisang, collected by Gabriel Santos

How whales shaped San Pedro

In the morning, Gabriel, Nain and I dine at San Pedro Garza García’s prestigious and exclusive golf club. The fruit is incredibly fresh, but I can feel the well-dressed men at the table behind us staring at my mullet.

Gabriel’s grandfather, Alberto Santos Gonzalez, played a central role in founding this club, and all of San Pedro. And though Gabriel can be sparse on family history details (preferring to not dwell in the past), depending on who you ask, the businessmen of Alberto’s era were either essential to Monterrey’s 20th century growth or liable for all that went wrong. Most likely, neither opinion is entirely correct.

A descendant of the De la Garza Falcón family that helped colonize Northeastern Mexico, Alberto was 20 years old when, in 1921, he and two brothers parlayed inherited wealth into a pasta company they’d soon transform into Mexico’s largest cookie manufacturer, Gamesa.

Alberto Santos Gonzalez and his family. 

As Gamesa’s president, in the early 1940s Alberto was commissioned to find land for an exclusive golf club. According to an article by University of Nuevo Leon philosophy professor Lylia Palacios, Alberto recommended the (then) fertile farmers’ orchards of San Pedro Garza García and, soon after, began buying out farmers with his brothers’ assistance, accruing a thousand acres abutting the proposed golf course’s west.

“I had to make purchases stealthily in order not to arouse the greed of other potential buyers, and so potential sellers would not raise their prices,” Alberto said, according to a 2001 biography.

As golf club construction began, Palacios writes, the brothers pushed through government approval of a plan to convert their thousand acres into a “luxury community” named Colonia Del Valle, with the private acres where Gabriel now resides on its edge. The plan included a clause stating all surrounding properties should share Colonia Del Valle’s vocation because, “agricultural ranches would demerit the value of the community.”

Like whales in the cryptoart space, Monterrey’s elite transformed San Pedro Garza García into a playground for the rich. In fact, it’s now the wealthiest municipality in all of Latin America, with Colonia Del Valle’s luxury apartments and fashion boutiques at its center. The displaced migrated elsewhere, often to nearby neighborhoods, where families struggle to put $5 worth of gas into their cars.

Breakfast at San Pedro’s golf club.
Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine.
SuperRare’s mission is to revolutionize the economics of human creativity by building a new art market that anyone can access. You too can have your artworks on display at the NY gallery by filling out this form.

Will the whales save us?

On Saturday evening, we order delivery food at Gabriel’s house – burgers and fries – and the conversation turns to the SuperRare DAO. 

On the day of its announcement last August, the SuperRare DAO released a token ($RARE) and proportionately distributed 15 percent of the 1 billion total supply to the crypto wallets of art collectors, artists, employees, investors, and partners. Token holders are empowered to shape the platform’s future in proportion to their personal token share. SuperRare marketplace royalties are now funneled into the DAO community treasury. Thus, if you own one percent of all $RARE tokens, you technically own one percent of the DAO’s value and one percent of the voting power on all proposals and initiatives.

Before dinner, I explain to Nain and Gabriel that SuperRare Labs is now working to decentralize SuperRare’s mechanisms for discovering and incentivizing new curatorial voices. This will enable token holders to empower and reward new artists and curators around the world. What I don’t say is that, for this to truly be revolutionary, it’s essential that we decentralize not just our voting mechanisms but the token itself. As of today, the lion’s share of $RARE is still held by whales, employees, and early investors. Can we trust them to make decisions based on anything but personal interests?1

Gabriel tells me he’s accruing as much $RARE as he can. He believes in the platform’s mission, and wants a large stake in its future. Recently, the DAO voted to approve his application for a SuperRare Space, giving him a gallery of his own within SuperRare, and the royalties from associated sales.

The food arrives. It’s unpackaged by housekeepers in another part of the house and brought to us on a tray with a lid.

On Sunday morning, I take the Greyhound bus back to the US. In the months ahead, I’ll talk to multiple artists who – save one who felt taken advantage of – say Gabriel has propelled their careers. Sure, he’s at least somewhat driven by profit, but what’s wrong with caring about profit? Isn’t that what brought cryptoart success in the first place?

I’m reminded of an expression in Mexico: La mordida, which translates literally to “the bite” but is better understood as “the bribe.” You could argue that Mexico has two tax systems: the state sanctioned list of standard impositions, and a cancerous form of bribery and extortion known as la mordida.

The state’s system is near anemic. Both the richest and the poorest slip through its enfeebled grip. La mordida, contrarily, is near omnipotent. From the policeman turning a blind eye to the scent of whiskey (or the sight of cocaine kilos) at a DUI checkpoint, to the campaign donor’s nephew winning a government construction contract, it marbles effortlessly through the economy like a fiscal leukemia gorging on red-blooded corruption.

La mordida isn’t just a Mexican problem. It extends to any industry, community, or local plagued by corruption of power. Blockchain, if used in good faith, could be a tool for weakening it. It could function as an equalizer, a means of establishing transparency. But getting there will require powerful allies, allies whose best interest could run counter to the values crypto espouses. Web3 is nothing more than a new set of tools, dependent entirely on the hands that wield it.

Artist Harry Pack of London has worked closely with Gabriel.
Photo by Nain Leon for SuperRare Magazine.

Last week, I sat in on an interview with AI artist Pindar Van Arman. Asked if cryptoart was a revolution, Van Arman replied, “a revolution? No. I think the future will most likely see the merging of the traditional and crypto art worlds into one. With this, we’ll inherit some of the bad from their systems and, hopefully, they’ll be forced to adopt some of the good from ours.”

Perhaps crypto is not a panacea, but a step in the right direction. Or, conversely, just another hypothesis to cross off the list. Either way, if you look past where mainstream rage wrote “ponzi scheme” in all-caps on the door, you’ll find a world of defiant artists and technologists with exciting ideas, whose lives have been changed for the better, and believe yours could be too.

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

¡Se compraaan colchooones! NFTs bring provenance to an iconic Mexican soundbite

¡Se compraaan colchooones! NFTs bring provenance to an iconic Mexican soundbite

Juan, a collector of old furniture and appliances using the famous Fierro Viejo recording, at work in Ecatepec, Mexico. (Photo by Nain Leon, SuperRare Magazine)

¡Se compraaan colchooones! NFTs bring provenance to an iconic Mexican soundbite

7 months ago

This week, a famous 20 second long audio clip, stolen and utilized by thousands to make money over two decades, returns to its rightful owners via the Ethereum blockchain.

Maria Del Mar Terrón Martínez was nine when her father, Marco Antonio Terron, approached her with a cassette player.

“Oye,” he said, “give me a hand, we’re going to make a recording.”

It was 2005. At the time, Marco earned his living towing a cart through the streets of Mexico City, shouting requests for scrap metal and discarded appliances into alleys and open windows, seeking residents looking to unload used microwaves or mattresses.

Maria (right) and her father, Marco (Photo by Nain Leon, SuperRare Magazine)

In the evenings, he would return to their small, cement-block home in Ecatepec, a municipality of over two-million residents just north of Mexico City. Plagued with poverty and scarce on water, Ecatepec is one of the most dangerous places in the country, with over a thousand femicides recorded in the last decade alone.

Shouting all day was taking its toll, but Marco had a plan. One night, after waiting until the street vendors quieted and the stray dogs calmed, he asked Maria to repeat the words he chanted all day into the recorder’s microphone. Breaking the night’s silence, she created the now iconic recording known to all Mexico City residents:

“Se compran … colchones … tambores … refrigeradores … estufas … lavadoras … microondas … o algo de fierro viejo que vendan!”

Fierro Viejo recording at work. Clips by: Guillermo Olmedo and Fortu & Mendoza

Other scrap collectors took note. Copies were burned, over and over, until the recording known commonly as the “Fierro Viejo ” had been duplicated thousands of times. Today, Maria’s voice is heard daily, blasting from megaphones attached to pickup trucks across Mexico City, as emblematic of the culture as tacos al pastor or vendors on the Metro. 

Despite the pervasiveness of the now registered copyright (not to mention its use in movies and albums), Maria and her father have received next to nothing for their intellectual property. Like artwork released on Instagram, the recording replicated through a network beyond their control, and as with art, it is NFTs that could return ownership to the creators.

Minting Maria

Gus Grillasca is an anarchist and Bitcoin maximalist born and raised in Mexico City. He speaks globally at blockchain conferences and records podcasts about digital property. On any given Friday, he can be found debating Bitcoin’s merits in local taquerias, clasping a beer with fingerless gloves. Trained as a chemical engineer, in 2017, Gus turned his attention to cryptocurrency’s potential to revolutionize finance and undermine ruling classes. He now occupies an office filled with books on economics, political philosophy, and Rare Pepes. Portraits on the wall can be scanned through his app to view their associated NFTs.

“There’s this girl in Mexico City named Raquel,” he said. “She came up with this very entertaining idea of doing an NFT for the original creators of the [Fierro Viejo].”

Raquel, an American expat, reached out to Maria to propose the project, then invited artists to participate. “She called me in December,” Gus said, “ offering me the main commission for the art.”

Gus, a SuperRare artist, saw an opportunity to communicate a message.

“For me, immediately, it became a challenge to show people how, through NFT fundraising, you can do way better than going through the traditional channels, through the traditional Mexican copyright mechanisms,” he explained.

This was a chance to make a statement, a declaration of the independence attainable through blockchain.

“The exciting part for me is to show someone like [Maria and her father] that, despite being completely non-technical, they can monetize any idea they have immediately with crypto,” he said. “This is an exercise, a way to show other people how they can potentially monetize without the intervention of lawyers and regulation.”

The artwork Gus created, to be minted through SuperRare this May, depicts Maria and Marco, driving a rusty flying pickup truck (think: Jetsons-era Kieth Urban video) filled with old appliances and mattresses, floating through a nondescript cityscape with a futuristic rendition of Fierro Viejo blasting through a megaphone. The sale proceeds will be split between the creators, with a percentage flowing into the hands of Gus, and the lion’s share to Maria and Marco.

Gus thinks crypto can bring forth a more equitable society, and that such ideas might first take root in countries like Mexico, where citizens might have less faith in existing power structures than nations like the US.

“Artists in Mexico are very aware of the value proposition of NFTs and crypto,” he noted. “My feeling is that most of the people hating on NFTs, and cryptocurrency, in general, are Western privileged people that don’t really understand the value proposition of sobering money. But in Mexico it is pretty clear.”

Gus admitted that crypto might have a difficult adolescence, but he expressed confidence in its long-term prospects.

“With Bitcoin, we have for the first time this sobering money that is very hard to confiscate,” he said. “For me, that’s a game changer. Like people fleeing from Ukraine today is not the same as Nazi Germany decades ago, because they can move all their wealth in a pen drive, or even memorize their seed phrase. I think that’s a game changer because it limits the capacity of a group in power to just confiscate the wealth of everyone else.”

Although many people believe that the crypto markets are chaotic, Gus contends that it’s our current traditional financial systems that are truly unhinged. “Most people think that we live under some international law system that keeps them safe from tyranny,” he told me. “Whereas, we believe it’s the complete opposite: We live in absolute anarchy, but most people live [under the illusion of] safety because they think there’s a privileged class that is looking after them.”

Speaking with Gus, I’m reminded of a 2018 quote by journalist Chris Hedges regarding the difference between American Democrats and Republicans: “There’s a difference [between them],” Hedges observed. “It’s how you want corporate fascism delivered to you. Do you want it delivered by a Princeton-educated, Goldman Sachs criminal or do you want it delivered by a racist, nativist, Christian fascist?”

“[Those in power] can steal, they can kidnap, they can lie,” he said. “And that’s ok because those are the ruling class. And I think it is pretty clear that if you frame it like this, it’s pretty obvious that there is something wrong.”

From Left to Right: Marco, Gus, and Maria (Photo by Nain Leon, SuperRare Magazine)

For Maria, minting the Fierro Viejo NFT comes with less idealistic goals. It provides a way to give back to her family for creating something that’s empowered her impoverished community for almost two decades. “I know where I come from and I know who I am and I know where I’m going,” she expounded, standing in her home with Gus and I, holding two of her children while a third peeks naked from his bedroom door. “Of course, I am very Mexican. And that I’ve been able to help many people who are now using the recording to support their families, I like that very much.”

She credited their lawyer, a family friend, for encouraging them to pursue this NFT project. “She was the one who told us, ‘Hey, you know what? This is a fantastic thing. This project is going to work.’ We still have a lot to learn [about crypto] but, as long as it is for a good use, here we are with Gus.”

We all laugh. “They already have their crypto wallets,” Gus added. “They’re already Bitcoiners.”

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

Fear & Minting in Tulum: A Music Industry Revolution or Just Another Party?

Fear & Minting in Tulum: A Music Industry Revolution or Just Another Party?

Above: Tale of Us

Fear & Minting in Tulum: A Music Industry Revolution or Just Another Party?

8 months ago

Zero hours and zero minutes

I’m waiting in line to board a flight at Gate C6 of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport behind a man whose God-given right to epidermic liberty refuses to be restrained beneath his double XL t-shirt. With his lower back hair tufting out like a plumber’s merkin, he personifies this journey (this American right of passage) from Texas to Cancun.

In fact, this whole flight is a parody of itself. It always is. A primary American export: One (1) fuselage of swollen stomachs, breasts and biceps packaged in Tommy Bahama and tribal tattoos that will try to order a margarita before take-off and get shipped back reddened and queasy 3-6 days later.

I don’t plan on stopping in Cancun, but instead renting a car and driving to its successor: Tulum. A strange, boutique replica of the same decadence, Tulum can be thought of as the affluent Millenial’s Cancun – less “20 shots of tequila” and more “five bottles of orange wine.” Located in the Riviera Maya of Mexico’s southeast coast, it’s a tantalizing combination of private luxury nested in tropical vegetation with back balconies opening to Instagrammable beaches. I’d driven through the town at least four times before I first stopped last February. We pulled into a local convenience store at around 9PM and, inside, I watched a muscle tee-adorned man with a Southern California accent shout the word “toothpaste” over and over at a confused and slightly frightened attendant.

Today, I’m returning to report on what I’ve been told could be the seeds of a music industry revolution: Equitably distributed royalties, fan ownership, and creator empowerment, all achieved without having to ask Sony or Warner Bros. for permission. At the center of this insurgence are two Italian men: Matteo Milleri, one half of the renowned Italian techno music project Tale Of Us, and Alessio De Vecchi, celebrated 3D artist and Chief Curator of the NFT platform SuperRare. Their vision, Anyma, could become the first large scale music industry use case for blockchain and NFTs: one that doesn’t discard existing tools like Spotify, but manipulates them to build fan-owned enterprises and cut out parasitical middlemen.

Matteo Milleri, left, and Alessio De Vecchi, right (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

It’s Monday at 7:30PM when we touch down. A tropical storm thunders against the tarmac and my stomach churns. I’ve got 46 hours to locate Matteo and Alessio for an interview at a former Pablo Escobar mansion turned luxury hotel on Tulum’s costal jungle, attend Afterlife, a nine hour live performance by Tale Of Us (2AM-11AM) culminating in the display and sale of one of Alessio’s NFTs on a 100ft tall screen at sunrise, and then drive sleepless back to Cancun in time for my return flight.

Afterlife is one of 11 Tale Of Us shows over 12 months at which one of Alessio’s NFT artworks will be released as a capital raise for Anyma. As a venue, Tulum holds no special value to the project, but as a cautionary tale to the NFT community, I’d posit it’s packed with lessons.

Unless you spent the last 12 months ducking COVID on the Appalachian Trail, you’ve probably noticed the NFT space had a hell of a year – a wild year, a profitable year, arguably a terrifying year. Though JPEGs have been on the blockchain since 2016, it wasn’t until early 2021 that people started putting enough faith in their future to add six zeros to their price tags.

Ask any enthusiast what makes NFTs special and they’ll say, “the community.” And there is something unique there. Blockchain networks allow for peer-to-peer connections – direct artist to collector relationships – and have enabled a sort of anarcho-capitalist system of investment and support without the need for galleries, record labels, or other hierarchies.

In the early days, it seemed the community’s most successful members were those that invested back into other members’ projects. And yet, by last summer, prices had risen to a point that most promising NFT projects were accessible only to the super affluent. “Investing back into the community” was starting to look like “investing back in anyone else positioned to risk $20,000 on a volatile token.” By December, the wealthiest investors were plastering animated GIFs on Times Square billboards like boys with a ruler in a middle school bathroom stall, while the day trading class met at private parties in Miami nightclubs to dance around bikini-clad models holding cardboard cutouts of cartoon “Bored Apes.”(( Google “Bored Ape Yacht Club” and we’ll see you back here in an hour.)) For all the promises of revolution, you had to wonder if this was much different from the systems that came before it.

And you can’t be faulted for worrying that NFTs are no more than a multi-level marketing scheme. Sure, maybe you can see the value in the fine art digital assets that have been purchased for thousands of dollars, but what about the 8-bit pixelated profile pics now selling for millions at Christies?

Some will insist you put faith in the future of the “metaverse” – the foretold augmented hyperreality that Mark Zuckerberg so lustfully aims to make his own. But when? In five years? 50? And do we really want to live in a Minecraft server anyway? Isn’t this all just some virtual Tower of Babel built by tech bros, Wall Street sharks, and art speculators, climbing to the moon on faith and hubris alone?

Well, maybe. Or maybe these are just growing pains.

One thing that is clear is that if NFTs are going to avoid going the way of Dutch tulips in the 1630s or Beanie Babies in the 1990s, this year needs to see projects that create measurable value for more than a handful of speculators.

Anyma could be one of those projects.

The view from our balcony, the weekend’s noble steed (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

Two hours and fifteen minutes

After some pleading and price gouging, photographers Nathan Beer, Kenzie McMillan, and I clamber into a rented Mini Cooper and head south. It seems every tourist is following suit, abandoning Cancun for Tulum. 

Long past are Cancun’s ‘90s heydays, when MTV would pipe footage of dancing swimsuit-clad coeds from its beaches to the living room of every 13-year-old boy watching “The Grind” with the lights out and his hands under a blanket. Today, the city’s reputation has sunk from sexy to saturated. Discarded by tourism’s elite, what remains is a sometimes dangerous, often depressing, culture of Vegas-style hedonistic consumerism.

Tulum, on the other hand, until recently was no more than a village with a beach. When the fashion photographers and boutique hotels began arriving in the mid-2000s, there was promise of something different than Cancun: a loving destination for beautiful, barefoot people wishing to embrace the spirituality of the local Mayan community. But demand and money came too fast. In the words of Reeves Wiedeman, “in barely more than a decade, Tulum transformed from a backpacker’s beach into the next stop after Ibiza on the global DJ party circuit.” “Eco-friendly” hotel rooms with diesel generator-powered air conditioners now rent at rates comparable to Paris or New York. Tulum has become a foreign-owned playground for the rich, less a loving community and more something to be consumed and discarded as soon as the next unspoiled paradise is discovered.

There is a parallel between what is happening in Tulum and in the NFT space. The wealthy and the stylish have turned a struggling space into a flourishing one. And yet, with unfettered growth came an unfettered greed at high risk of destroying the thing it loved.

Arriving at midnight, we sit around with local friends Jesus and Rosalinda discussing the increase in kidnappings and gun violence. Our neighbor shouts from the balcony: can anyone sell him some weed?

“What’s your number, we’ll start a Whatsapp group” (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

Twenty one hours and forty minutes

We’re late. We were supposed to meet with Matteo and Alessio almost an hour ago but the Mini Cooper is stuck behind an infinite line of taxis on a long dirt road canopied by arching papaya and palm trees. 

This is Tulum’s five mile beach strip where the fantasy unfolds. Stylish couples with good skin and filled lips flaunt ribbed stomachs and booty shelves, meandering from foreign-owned boutiques selling 20 manifestations of the same Aztec print sundress to soft lit open air bars where a mixologist with a man bun will make you a mezcal cocktail afront a neon sign suggesting you do something cliche/platitudinous like “Follow Your Dreams.”

There is a name for this aesthetic, but I can’t place it. “Boho-chic?” Kenzie suggests. I don’t know. All I’m sure of is we’ve been stuck beside the same vape pen vending machine out front a pharmacy advertising anabolic steroids and Viagra for the last 30 minutes, and Alessio keeps texting me to hurry.

Eventually we reach the less trafficked end of the road populated by the most opulent hotels. A sand path walled by candlelit railroad ties leads us to the villa Matteo has rented with his Italian wife, model Vittoria Ceretti.

“Nice to meet you,” Matteo says, barefoot, at ease, as we shuffle across a plush carpet to a wraparound couch pointing into the jungle canopy through an open, wall-to-wall window. There is tranquility. Tropical birds whistle. We sit.

Luke, left, and Matteo, right, discuss Blockchain’s great promises (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

Born in New York, Matteo moved to Italy at a young age where he met Carmine Conte, the other half of Tale Of Us. In 2011, they released their first EP and – led in part by their immersive live shows – have since become a powerful force in the techno music touring circuit with a loyal fanbase.

This afternoon he’s dressed in a well-fit, white t-shirt and shorts, slender in shape and tattooed from palm to foot. He crosses his legs tightly, leans back, and takes time to articulate his words, not expecting to be interrupted.

I ask him about the roots of the Anyma project.

“The influence of art, and especially digital art, was always very strong in my music and in my performances,” he says. “So I said, ‘Ok, I’ll create my own environment. I’ll procure the communication. I’ll create the production. I’ll curate where it starts and where it ends. [I’ll create] the mood…’ So the people go into it like they go into the theaters. They are transported on a journey. So that was the beginning. And to do this I needed real art. Because the music wasn’t enough.”

By “real art” he means Alessio, who he invited to his home in Ibiza last summer.

Alessio is tall, animated, and opinionated about most everything, yet vulnerable in that way the most creative among us can be. Much of his work involves these beautiful, surreal worlds that fantastical characters interact with in ways that speak to the human condition. In 2020 he was accepted to SuperRare where he began minting his NFTs. Soon the platform offered him a job as Chief Curator and he was selling pieces for upwards of $100,000.

“The Pact” by Alessio De Vecchi

“In my opinion,” Alessio says, “the problem we have with NFTs is that there’s no bridging between our scene and reality. Our scene is a fucking bubble. So Mateo said, ‘Okay, I play in front of 20,000 people every two weeks. We can start implementing these fucking visuals and people will start to get it,’ like, ‘Oh, this is an NFT. So somebody owns it, right?”

As mentioned, 11 of Alessio’s artworks will become visuals in 11 Tale Of Us shows. 10 of them will then be sold for 50ETH (around $160,000 at time of the event) in order to finance development of the central component of Anyma: a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO.

If you’re not scrolling crypto Twitter every day, you might never have heard of DAOs, but it’s worth paying attention. They could quickly rise to prominence in 2022.

If a blockchain is like an accounting ledger that uses code instead of accountants to track transactions, a DAO is like a corporation that uses code instead of officers and employees to manage shareholders’ investments. Similar to how corporations are organized around rules carried out by employees and bylaws, DAOs are organized around rules executed by code. They’re built atop blockchains, which they use to confirm their transactions. Instead of distributing shares that dictate investor ownership and voting rights, DAOs distribute tokens toward the same end. Thus, if a DAO issues one billion tokens and you hold 500 million of them, you control half of the DAO. Inevitably, tokens find their way into free exchanges where they find market value and disseminate to regular investors.

In the last couple years we’ve seen DAOs form for an increasing number of use cases. Some serve a strict investment purpose, like an index or hedge fund. The NFT world has seen a huge spike in art collection DAOs. Another intriguing use case is governance: Similar to a corporation, a DAO can be used to organize a network or business, allocating voting power through tokens and, hopefully, eradicating traditional hierarchies and corruption.

Anyma will deploy a DAO through which all the artists’ royalties will flow. “The music royalties will get distributed to the token holders,” Alessio says. Initially, a high number of tokens will be dispersed among the artists and the 10 NFT investors. Longer term, mechanisms will be devised to get tokens into the hands of all members of their community: fans, stagehands, opening acts.

Without those behind the scenes, there would be no scene (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

“We are starting with this niche collection for high-end collectors, to raise, let’s say, the funds to create the organization and empower the creators, which, for me, means getting out of deals with major labels,” Matteo says. “So no more advances to produce, no more advances to get out of publishing deals, get out of all these management deals where they find you a brand; all the shit you need to do to raise money, to do cool shit.”

The 11th NFT from their 11th show will be transferred to the Anyma DAO vault: the first asset to be owned by the community, like a Rembrandt held by a trust. Then as the DAO matures, Matteo intends to put tokens into the hands of his fanbase. “That is going to be the way to empower the people that usually we’re just asking for money,” he says. “Because for 10 years, I’ve been asking my fans for money. Soon I’ll get to give back.”

At such a point, if you are a fan and Anyma token holder, just by attending a show or playing a Tale Of Us track on Spotify, you’ll be boosting your personal bottom line.

“I’m giving back everything I make from the music to the community,” Matteo said. “I’m not making any money with the music anymore. But, of course, I’m also holding the token. So I’m like them: All the music is all to the community and we all have proportionate amounts of token based on how much we invest in it.”

Victoria taps Matteo on the shoulder. We should leave so they can nap. The Afterlife festival starts in eight hours.

The beautiful chaos awaiting us (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

Thirty-one hours and forty-five minutes

By 3AM, the Mini Cooper is parked and we’re walking through the gates into Afterlife. The bass beats its chest through the ground. Earlier Matteo had said he envisions a world in which technology has advanced to a point where every facet of his shows become part of a living art experience, a transhuman journey through a hyperreality. Given what’s available today, he’s had a pretty good stab at it tonight.

Walking through the angular wooden tunnel beyond the opening gates, blue and green lights splinter through tropical vegetation, a wormhole into Afterlife. A sea of DayGlo-splashed and flower-crowned influencers dance and skip through. Cowboy hats and bunny ears, shaved chests and bone necklaces. Flowing dresses, fishnets, and painted ass cheeks. Dilated pupils.

“You need ecstasy? Coke? Weed?” I’d bet MDMA plays a role in how they’re touching each other in that ankle-deep wading pool.

There must be tens of thousands of people. I feel outside of it all, an observer scribbling into a notepad I ripped in half to fit in my pocket like a court stenographer who lost his grip to meth. Our wristbands are the premium shit, not just backstage but onstage, and the more security checkpoints we pass through, the skinnier the women seem to get.

Up on stage the view is wild. The lightshow and 100ft visuals transform the night. Not arbitrary colors but calculated moods crashing across and filling the crowd. I feel as if stranded on a tiny tropical moon circling Jupiter with 20,000 lustful millennials – all possible investors in Anyma’s future.

And, oh boy, what beautiful chaos it was (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

The hours melt. The mood ebbs and flows. And then the sun rises. On a 100ft tall circular screen behind the stage adorned in a giant frame of lush vegetation, Alessio’s artwork appears. It’s titled “The Pact” and features a human and robotic hand dancing and rotating around one another without touching, like teasing lovers. Suddenly, the index fingers connect and a deep golden ring ripples from the artwork’s center. The canvas fills with light.

Sometimes, I get the sense that people come to festivals like this to tap into something primal, to lose themselves in a sea of bodies, sweating, dancing, bonding. For a moment in time there is empathy among strangers, there is understanding, there is, it seems, community.

Two days later, “The Pact” will sell for $159,770 to someone named @zalaxyhot4269 on SuperRare.

Tale of Us doing what they do best, and with quite a view (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

Forty-one hours and ten minutes

It’s noon and we’re barreling in the Mini Cooper back toward the Cancun airport. Kenzie’s asleep in the back. Nathan’s reviewing footage and I’ve got time to think. If last year was the year of the NFT, there’s no reason 2022 couldn’t be the year of the DAO. Anyma is just one of many promising DAOs germinating in the NFT space, and the optimist in me wants to believe their utility and accessibility might not only save digital art from a devastating market correction but could, one day, become a tool in ushering forward a more equitable era of human governance and cooperation. The pessimist in me, however, is thinking about the parallels between this region and the NFT space, about the devastating impacts of unchecked growth and greed – consuming communities and rotting value like human melanoma. With this in mind, I can’t stop reliving the memory of our first night in Tulum:

Hungry and restless at around 1AM, Jesus, Nathan and I had driven to a taco stand selling tripas, a cow’s small intestines, arrachera, a boneless portion of steak cut from a cow’s diaphragm muscle, and al pastor, pig meat marinated in spices and spit-grilled. We order and wait. A sweet beige and white collie-mix street dog coils up on the ground, softly licking a wound on her foot.

“Table for two!” (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

Suddenly, a furious taxi driver parked in front of the stand starts his van, matts the accelerator, and drives right over the street dog. If he didn’t know he hit her when the front tire rolled over, he certainly knew when the rear one did.

The dog yelps out in pain and horror. It flips and writhes on the ground. The taxi disappears. The dog’s intestines have been crushed. Nathan pets her head as a circle forms around her. She gasps. Jesus doesn’t stand up but all the gringos are frantic. We are distraught. We are beside ourselves. The dog dies right in front of us. 

One of the cooks pulls a trash bag from his truck, puts the body inside and carries it to a public trash can. For a moment there is silence amid the mourners, there is a sense that something is wrong here, that something should be done. Then, one by one, as our tacos get served, we pop over to sink our teeth into the meat.

RIP bud, we hardly knew ya (SuperRare/Nathan Beer)

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

Art

Tech

Curators' Choice

The moments between: Caitlin Cronenberg’s “Persistence Of Vision” proposes a new NFT photographer medium

The moments between: Caitlin Cronenberg’s “Persistence Of Vision” proposes a new NFT photographer medium

Still images from Cronenberg’s

The moments between: Caitlin Cronenberg’s “Persistence Of Vision” proposes a new NFT photographer medium

Whyte Luke
12 months ago

The saddest part of a broken heart
Isn’t the ending as much as the start. 

— Fiest

Soon after I got off the phone with artist Caitlin Cronenberg and sat down to write about her new Series on SuperRare, “Persistence Of Vision,” I was reminded of the night in northern Scotland I stopped believing in Santa Claus.

I must have been around seven. Santa’s red particle board sleigh had been strapped atop a boat trailer and hooked to a pickup truck to parade through town. Local children were being recruited to help Claus collect charitable donations and, being the gift hungry little bootlicker I was, I threw on some mittens and trudged into darkness to earn my wishlist.

At the end of his route, Santa offered me a ride home. Delighted, I climbed aboard the sleigh and we drove into the wind. Santa sat back and sighed. He looked me in the eye, pulled down his beard, and asked me to shield the wind so he could light a cigarette. His skin was pockmarked. His cough wet. “Slow the fuck down,” he rasped at our driver.

“Persistence Of Vision” doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas. A project nine years in the making, it began with an idea for a book of photography about heartbreak and the spectrum of emotions it evokes.

“The idea was to create these short stories of one to six images,” Cronenberg said. Working with art director Jessica Ennis, Cronenberg recruited actresses like Julianne Moore and Keira Knightley and gave them short backstories of romantic distress for what would become “The Endings,” a best-selling book of 28 short photographic stories.

“Jess and I, we would come up with an idea for the story and we would do all of the things that you have to do, like create the set, have the styling, the hair and makeup and all of that stuff,” she said. From there, the actresses were free to explore. “With our subject, we would say ‘Okay, so your storyline is you just caught your boyfriend or husband having an affair and your character is an artist so, instead of just setting fire to everything, you decided to meticulously cut up every item of clothing that he owns.’”

The result is an outstanding series of evocative vignettes. Unique but universal, they strum memories and pluck emotions like string instruments of déjà vu.

“Honestly, I felt like a voyeur. I felt like I shouldn’t be watching them. They were having this private moment and I shouldn’t be there.”

— Caitlin Cronenberg

Cronenberg’s approach to photography enables these moments. She shoots continuously during a session, capturing every moment. In the case of “The Endings”, this resulted in thousands of unused images into which, with the emergence of NFTs, she saw the opportunity to breathe new life: photographic animations created from still frames. And from this idea, “Persistence of Vision” – a SuperRare Series of five animations composed from the short story stills of “The Endings” – was born.

“I spent so long holding onto these [“Persistence of Vision”] images and knowing what I had but not being able to share them, it feels almost as if [NFTs] were designed for photographers to be able to show their work in a different light,” she said. “I think there’s such a vulnerability in showing yourself as an artist by showing your process and that’s why I got really excited about having a couple hundred frames in a row because they’re certainly not all perfect… but, as a collection, it shows the process of not only how I came to create the final image but how the subject interacted with the camera.”

It’s a medium tailor made for her style.

“I like to shoot continuously,” she said, “because I want to capture the in-between moments more so than the moments that people think I’m trying to capture. I want to get them when they’re caught off-guard.”

It’s no surprise that Caitlin has honed the craft of catching the moments between. The daughter of internationally renowned director, David Cronenberg, she grew up with one foot in the polished, arguably plastic, world of Hollywood and the other in their home 2,500 miles away in Toronto. It’s a dynamic she’s sustained to this day. As a mother still living in the Toronto area, she’ll jump from sledding with her little kids on a winter weekend to flying to LA Monday morning for a shoot with Billie Elish.

She’s down to earth and knows how to make a subject at ease. Her cat wanders across her laptop during our video chat as I ask her what draws her to portraiture and to projects like “The Endings” and “Persistence of Vision.”

“It’s the connection, being able to attempt to capture someone’s true self as they actually are, not the self they’re trying to put forward… It gives me so much pleasure when I feel like I’ve captured an authentic portrait.”

— Caitlin Cronenberg

Therein lies the magic behind “Persistence of Vision.” Cronenberg has succeeded in capturing something authentically human. It’s in the imperfections, the shadows that season the light. When the fourth wall waivers and the actresses pull down their beards to light up a cigarette, those are the moments we remember.


15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

Hash Recipes

Negative Space

Weekly Top 10

Hidden Gems: Popular new artists who haven’t sold their first artwork

Hidden Gems: Popular new artists who haven’t sold their first artwork

Hidden Gems: Popular new artists who haven’t sold their first artwork

1 year ago

By Luke Whyte, Editorial Director

We’ve dusted off our Compaq‘s monitor, fired up SuperRare’s Zip Drive and spent the night burning through inkjet cartridges to bring you this data-driven edition of “Hidden Gems”:

Here are the five artists with the highest SuperRare follower counts among those that joined in the last six months who are yet to sell a single artwork. (Excluded from the list are artists without an artwork open to offers below 5 ETH.)

Here are the five artists with the highest SuperRare follower counts among those that joined in the last six months who are yet to sell a single artwork. (Excluded from the list are artists without an artwork open to offers below 5 ETH.)

Explore and discover!

#1: @olegdou, 45 followers

#2: @thefabricant, 33 followers

#3: @tishkbarzanji, 21 followers

#4: @joiceloo, 12 followers

#5: @itsryandanderson, 11 followers

15

Luke Whyte

Luke Whyte is SuperRare's Editorial Director.

Feature Articles

Artist Discovery

Feature Articles