What Madonna’s collaboration with Beeple tells us about the status of human-centred reality
The development of NFTs as a platform for a kind of feral, chaotic experiment in visual culture has produced some strange works of late. The recent NFT collaboration between pop queen Madonna and NFT king Mike Winkelmann – the artist known as Beeple – being one of them. The three videos that comprise Mother of Creation (2022) aren’t exactly subtle. In three different, vaguely dystopian science-fictional settings, a reclining, naked Madonna CGI avatar gives birth to things other than human babies: a great, verdant tree, quickly covered in lichen and blossoms; a cloud of fluttering amber butterflies; and perhaps strangest of all, a cohort of metallic centipede robots. All to be auctioned as fundraisers for women’s charities, on NFT site SuperRare.
The garish, exorbitantly priced JPGs currently bewitching the art world might not be to everyone’s taste. But since when has that mattered?
With its knack for colliding cultural novelty with fast money and a lack of judgement, contemporary art is always an easy target for ridicule – “You paid how much for that thing?” – the fable of the emperor’s new clothes the go-to of exasperated aesthetic traditionalists. Right now, in contemporary art there’s currently no greater shock of the new than the chaotic explosion of NFT art – digital “artworks” of wildly varying quality, traded in online markets, themselves riding the bizarre boom in cryptocurrencies.
My comment on statue-smashing, from Eric Gill to William Colston, for ArtReview
Amid the furious arguments that now surround whether statues should be toppled, destroyed, removed to a museum, ‘interpreted’ or just left where they are, the truth that most statues, most of the time, go unnoticed, is rarely acknowledged. Every day, thousands of Londoners walk past the old entrance of the BBC’s Broadcasting House and never give Prospero and Ariel (1932), installed in an alcove above it, a second glance. But on Wednesday evening, a man scaled a ladder to take a hammer to the sculpture, knocking lumps out of the naked Ariel figure’s feet and legs, and suddenly everyone looked up.
Originally published in the December 2021 ‘Power 100’ issue of ArtReview
This was the year that the art object was finally dematerialised. It’s not that eye-melting amounts weren’t still being paid for physical things, of course. After COVID-19 and lockdowns, the art auction market has come roaring back; at the Sotheby’s sale of the collection of Harry and Linda Macklowe in November, a painting by Mark Rothko went for $82.5m, a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti for $68m. Physical artworks continue to attract financial value to them, in which money is captured and congealed, in vast amounts.
The backlash over the postponement of the touring exhibition Philip Guston Now is the latest, starkest example of how museums are becoming little more than sites of social and political contestation.
The show’s first incarnation, at London’s Tate Modern, had been due to open early next year. Now the show, rethought, reimagined and redone is not projected to go on view until 2024 – ‘until a time’, according to the directors of the four institutions involved (Washington’s National Gallery of Art (NGA), the Tate, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) ‘at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted’.