de en

It's an Infrastructure Game

[Simon Denny] Maybe we should start by talking a little bit about what’s in the book. I guess one of the key questions is: What is value in the crypto space? Where does value come from? And this refers both to cryptocurrency, which predates the art, and to this new value that is forming around the distribution of artworks.

[Kolja Reichert] That’s the core question that drove the book. Auction results like a Beeple video going from 60,000 to 6.6 million dollars in three months—that was a shift that was not only economic, it was cultural. I was a late discoverer of NFTs. It was in the wake of the GameStop hype, when for 24 hours an online coordinated gang of young, in some cases impoverished Generation Z people looked like they were able to take Wall Street down, fighting big hedge funds betting against a company they love, GameStop, a gaming company. That also looked like a cultural shift, and that’s where I started becoming interested. These weird values in money, for one thing, of course are part of a very speculative economy, but they wouldn’t exist without another very speculative economy, which is cultural value, people gathering around certain values, assets, conversations, and agreeing on the value of them. And when I got more into it, it seemed like suddenly there was a solution to a really fundamental question I had long been interested in: How can you translate cultural value into financial value?

[SD] Maybe it’s worth defining some terms we’re talking about. I think there are a lot of different ways in which artists use cryptocurrencies. I think the most famous way now is by selling JPEGs that are linked to assets, a kind of registry. For those who are new to NFTs: the basic structure of an NFT, like one of the most well-known works by Beeple, is that it’s a digital file which is an artwork. It is then registered in a blockchain, which is basically just an online database of transactions, which tells you who owns it. So, it’s a very simple thing in some ways, what an NFT is.

[KR] You just explained blockchains and NFTs in one sentence.

[SD] Yes, and it’s often worth saying, it feels more complicated than it really is. I think everybody who is familiar with an auction house like Grisebach knows about how eccentric things gather value and that trading them, those objects that hold value, also can be an act of care and an act of speculation at the same time. And I think that’s something that is really true with NFTs. In some ways these digital artworks with an online registry that a bunch of people take care of are like something you already know from another context. It’s not so different.

[KR] And it’s surprising that you use the word “care”, because what is visible from the outside is huge prices, and everybody thinks, “Speculation! When will the bubble burst?” So where exactly does the care component come in?

[SD] Maybe that’s worth also reflecting on: the idea that people buy artworks because they like them and they see financial value in them. And I think that’s been true of people for my work. They come to an exhibition, they see a nice thing that they think has cultural value, but they also see a price tag and a container for financial value, and they buy that asset so that it holds both their cultural value and their financial value at once. And it’s a nice way to also support the people who made the cultural value, but there are other incentives to put your money there. It’s also kind of a fundraising tool. So, I would say that a lot of NFT buyers come for similar reasons, both for speculation and for cultural value. I’m also an NFT buyer. I have a collection of NFTs. My collection of NFTs is unfortunately more various than my collection of non-digital artworks, which I also like to collect. I have a small art collection as well. But what’s great with NFT collections is that anyone can look at my profile on various platforms and see which things I’ve bought.

[KR] There’s a lot I still haven’t understood about how value is created. Why does Kevin Abosch sell a super generic, boring digital photo of a red rose for one million dollars, a JPEG that everyone can view anywhere? Compare that to crafting a very considered work about the energy consumption of blockchain mining with a legacy gallery, Petzel in New York, employing all the legacy of critical reference art. You use mining computers you bought on eBay, people buy an animation of these computers, and the moment they buy it and the thing is minted, the computers are taken off the blockchain again and given to Oxford University to serve in climate modeling. It’s beautiful. It’s also like a parody of reference art. Why does this work only gain five-figure results?

[SD] I think we know this type of behavior from the “legacy art world,” which is the term I like to use for the art world that we’re speaking in now. It’s because Kevin’s activities and his artworks that he’s created have a certain audience and a certain visibility within that audience, which cares about and buys those NFTs. It’s the same reason why a Christopher Wool—just as an example—is more expensive than another fantastic artwork by a younger artist or a less visible artist. It’s because within the group of people that buy those assets, there’s a social hierarchy and a kind of critical discursive hierarchy that has built up a certain value around those things. That’s true in NFTs as well, right? And maybe it’s worth stating that at this stage, I think, the people who buy art and the people who buy NFTs are different people, for the most part. That’s also true with my own work. The people who buy my NFTs and the people who buy my sculptures that I show at Buchholz or Petzel are different people, and they’ve created their wealth in different places. They value different things, but they both love the culture that’s produced in these particular formats because they stand for something that they like. [KR] Right, but one culture seems to buy trivial, meaningless JPEGs, and the other audience agrees that Christopher Wool deserves high prices because his work is better. It’s not just the social network that’s better. The artist’s work itself is better. You’re reducing everything to social connections here, and there’s a heavy, heavy provocation in that.

[SD] Well, I think criteria for quality and value and culture are quite difficult to pin down. Let’s just say there are not only differences within one particular market, or one particular series by the great Christopher Wool and the not-so-experienced young artists, which you represent. For example, I grew up in a country, New Zealand, where there were completely different canons vying for what is a valuable cultural object. I grew up in a post-colonial context, for want of a better term, and there was a white art history and an indigenous, multicultural art history at the same time, and they both go to auction and they are both sold within this kind of system. The reason why I bring that up is because I think putting cultural and financial value together is always a challenge, and to say this is quality and this is not is always a bit of a social game about who’s saying what and who has the power to say.

[KR] I don’t want to go too deep into my conception of art criticism, but I think the product that we sell as art critics is not only judgments, and it cannot be objective criteria either, because criteria are always developed by artworks. So, what we can do is compare artworks with artworks, but what we actually do is something more. We create a common ground of reference and put works into a certain narrative. It’s like miners: When an artist tries to add an artwork to the blockchain of human culture, people around the world have to legitimize, verify this transaction before the artwork is added to the chain. Narrative is the product that art critics sell: to show how we can be affected by artworks. What are the causes that this artist is fighting for? What is the happiness that you can get from art? And narrative to me seems also to be the core resource of NFTs in a way. It seems to be a very fictional market, where fiction and finance marry in an extreme way that we haven’t seen before.

[SD] I think one of the reasons why NFTs have attracted so much financial capital is because there was a lot of financial capital to spend for people who very quickly changed their personal financial situation because cryptocurrencies themselves ballooned in value. You don’t have an NFT market without the incredible rise in perceived, stated, and actual value of Bitcoin and Ether. And most of the volume of sales of NFTs is done in Ether and on the Ethereum network, so you also don’t have an NFT market without the growing utility and spread of the Ethereum ecosystem as a whole. I guess also it parallels narratives of an evolving, different web, which needs a financial assets component to it to function in a different way. I think one of the most interesting things about crypto and NFTs is what people call Web3, and changes to the way ownership works on the web.

[KR] Right. I, like many, first looked at this NFT thing like, okay, if I compare these images to the images I know, on my wall or in the galleries I like or in museums, they look bad. So NFTs are bad. Culture is declining because people are losing taste. Then, if you look at these projects, you understand the images are not what is being purchased. They’re just the cover artwork. You don’t buy so much the picture, you buy the social relationship, you buy membership in a network, but you also in a way buy the fact that you’re buying. But in the more interesting cases, you buy building blocks for new ways of organizing.

[SD] The claim by those who are building this new web is that, in a Web3 world, we have a technical way of being able to share a piece of the financial upside of the value we create as users, as a part of the infrastructure, and the fact that we can then own and trade those means that all users can be owners at the same time. It’s not only the overlords of big companies that get benefits in this new web. It’s you and me as well. Not only that, but the social benefits that we create by being social, by interacting with each other, that at the moment only shareholders of Twitter, Facebook, etcetera benefit from financially. If each user can keep a token that carries some of that cultural value that we’re creating ourselves, they can also get the financial value from that percentile. NFTs are maybe a part of that infrastructure. This is like a test case for that environment. As an artist I create buzz around a JPEG, I create a following around a particular group of JPEGs that tell a particular story. People get excited about that, there’s cultural use value in that, but I also get to keep some of the financial value of that behavior around that because that JPEG is linked to a financial store of value that the market value can be expressed in, that is always joined to that JPEG.

[KR] We can also compare it to the art market as we know it. If you make an innovation as a gallerist together with an artist, and you are successful, you have to be super afraid, because with the speed at which prices now rise due to the increased concentration of wealth, the artist has no other choice than to switch to the next bigger gallery that can handle the demand. And if a work goes to auction ten years later, the artist sees the return multiply a hundredfold, without getting anything. There was a study that I also included in the book, which showed that Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns would have earned a thousand times more in their lives if they got a cut of ten percent from any resale. NFTs do that. And this also touches on the cultural shift that we are seeing there, that speculation suddenly is something that doesn’t exclude people having invested in the beginning, but helps grow what they created.

[SD] Right, and there are maybe two components that are worth teasing out. The fact that royalties go to the artists when NFTs are resold is a cultural decision, which has a cultural history with curator Seth Siegelaub and his “The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement” contract circulating among conceptual artists since the early 1970s, but it also has an architectural and infrastructural element to it, because with NFTs, rights are hardwired, hard-programmed into it. When a resale takes place, nobody has to settle that account. It just directly goes to the artist. The fact that it’s so easy, that you can’t really mess with that when you have the asset, makes it a lot more possible to do this artist resale royalty that has been demanded for so long. But in different jurisdictions they have different laws, and within those jurisdictions it’s not always enforceble. So, this new infrastructure says, it desn’t matter where you buy. The minute that the transaction takes place, the royalty goes to the artist. It’s not a social game, it’s an infrastructure game.

This text was also published in Lerchenfeld No. 61.

This public conversation was conducted by Kolja Reichert and Simon Denny on 28 February 2022 at Villa Grisebach in Berlin on the occasion of the publication of Krypto-Kunst in Wagenbach Verlag’s series Digitale Bildkulturen. The passages printed here are taken from a live recording that can be watched on the YouTube channel of Digitale Bildkulturen.

Simon Denny has been Professor of Time-based Media at the HFBK Hamburg since 2018. In his internationally shown exhibitions, he artistically explores the social and political impact of the tech industry and the rise of social media, startup culture, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies.

Kolja Reichert is an art critic and has worked as an editor for Spike Art Quarterly, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. Since June 2021, he has been curator for discourse at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn.

Solo exhibition by Konstantin Grcic

From September 29 to October 23, 2022, Konstantin Grcic (Professor of Industrial Design) will be showing a room-sized installation at ICAT - Institute for Contemporary Art & Transfer at the HFBK Hamburg consisting of objects designed by him and existing, newly assembled objects. At the same time, the space he designed for workshops, seminars and office workstations in the AtelierHaus will be put into operation.

Amna Elhassan, Tea Lady, oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

Amna Elhassan, Tea Lady, oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

Art and war

"Every artist is a human being". This statement by Martin Kippenberger, which is as true as it is existentialist (in an ironic rephrasing of the well-known Beuys quote), gets to the heart of the matter in many ways. On the one hand, it reminds us not to look away, to be (artistically) active and to raise our voices. At the same time, it is an exhortation to help those who are in need. And that is a lot of people at the moment, among them many artists. That is why it is important for art institutions to discuss not only art, but also politics.

Merlin Reichert, Die Alltäglichkeit des Untergangs, Installation in der Galerie der HFBK; photo: Tim Albrecht

Merlin Reichert, Die Alltäglichkeit des Untergangs, Installation in der Galerie der HFBK; photo: Tim Albrecht

Graduate Show 2022: We’ve Only Just Begun

From July 8 to 10, 2022, more than 160 Bachelor’s and Master’s graduates of the class of 2021/22 will present their final projects from all majors. Under the title Final Cut, all graduation films will be shown on a big screen in the auditorium of the HFBK Hamburg. At the same time, the exhibition of the Sudanese guest lecturer Amna Elhassan can be seen in the HFBK gallery in the Atelierhaus.

Grafik: Nele Willert, Dennise Salinas

Grafik: Nele Willert, Dennise Salinas

June is full of art and theory

It has been a long time since there has been so much on offer: a three-day congress on the visuality of the Internet brings together international web designers; the research collective freethought discusses the role of infrastructures; and the symposium marking the farewell of professor Michaela Ott takes up central questions of her research work.

Renée Green. ED/HF, 2017. Film still. Courtesy of the artist, Free Agent Media, Bortolami Gallery, New York, and Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin/Cologne/Munich.

Renée Green. ED/HF, 2017. Film still. Courtesy of the artist, Free Agent Media, Bortolami Gallery, New York, and Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin/Cologne/Munich.

Finkenwerder Art Prize 2022

The Finkenwerder Art Prize, initiated in 1999 by the Kulturkreis Finkenwerder e.V., has undergone a realignment: As a new partner, the HFBK Hamburg is expanding the prize to include the aspect of promoting young artists and, starting in 2022, will host the exhibition of the award winners in the HFBK Gallery. This year's Finkenwerder Art Prize will be awarded to the US artist Renée Green. HFBK graduate Frieda Toranzo Jaeger receives the Finkenwerder Art Prize for recent graduates.

Amanda F. Koch-Nielsen, Motherslugger; photo: Lukas Engelhardt

Amanda F. Koch-Nielsen, Motherslugger; photo: Lukas Engelhardt

Nachhaltigkeit im Kontext von Kunst und Kunsthochschule

Im Bewusstsein einer ausstehenden fundamentalen gesellschaftlichen Transformation und der nicht unwesentlichen Schrittmacherfunktion, die einem Ort der künstlerischen Forschung und Produktion hierbei womöglich zukommt, hat sich die HFBK Hamburg auf den Weg gemacht, das Thema strategisch wie konkret pragmatisch für die Hochschule zu entwickeln. Denn wer, wenn nicht die Künstler*innen sind in ihrer täglichen Arbeit damit befasst, das Gegebene zu hinterfragen, genau hinzuschauen, neue Möglichkeiten, wie die Welt sein könnte, zu erkennen und durchzuspielen, einem anderen Wissen Gestalt zu geben

New studio in the row of houses at Lerchenfeld

New studio in the row of houses at Lerchenfeld, in the background the building of Fritz Schumacher; photo: Tim Albrecht

Raum für die Kunst

After more than 40 years of intensive effort, a long-cherished dream is becoming reality for the HFBK Hamburg. With the newly opened studio building, the main areas of study Painting/Drawing, Sculpture and Time-Related Media will finally have the urgently needed studio space for Master's students. It simply needs space for their own ideas, for thinking, for art production, exhibitions and as a depot.

Martha Szymkowiak / Emilia Bongilaj, Installation “Mmh”; photo: Tim Albrecht

Martha Szymkowiak / Emilia Bongilaj, Installation “Mmh”; photo: Tim Albrecht

Annual Exhibition 2022 at the HFBK

After last year's digital edition, the 2022 annual exhibition at the HFBK Hamburg will once again take place with an audience. From 11-13 February, students from all departments will present their artistic work in the building at Lerchenfeld, Wartenau 15 and the newly opened Atelierhaus.

Annette Wehrmann, photography from the series Blumensprengungen, 1991-95; photo: Ort des Gegen e.V., VG-Bild Kunst Bonn

Annette Wehrmann, photography from the series Blumensprengungen, 1991-95; photo: Ort des Gegen e.V., VG-Bild Kunst Bonn

Conference: Counter-Monuments and Para-Monuments.

The international conference at HFBK Hamburg on December 2-4, 2021 – jointly conceived by Nora Sternfeld and Michaela Melián –, is dedicated to the history of artistic counter-monuments and forms of protest, discusses aesthetics of memory and historical manifestations in public space, and asks about para-monuments for the present.

23 Fragen des Institutional Questionaire, grafisch umgesetzt von Ran Altamirano auf den Türgläsern der HFBK Hamburg zur Jahresausstellung 2021; photo: Charlotte Spiegelfeld

23 Fragen des Institutional Questionaire, grafisch umgesetzt von Ran Altamirano auf den Türgläsern der HFBK Hamburg zur Jahresausstellung 2021; photo: Charlotte Spiegelfeld

Diversity

Who speaks? Who paints which motif? Who is shown, who is not? Questions of identity politics play an important role in art and thus also at the HFBK Hamburg. In the current issue, the university's own Lerchenfeld magazine highlights university structures as well as student initiatives that deal with diversity and identity.

Grafik: Tim Ballaschke

Grafik: Tim Ballaschke

Start of semester

After three semesters of hybrid teaching under pandemic conditions, we are finally about to start another semester of presence. We welcome all new students and teachers at the HFBK Hamburg and cordially invite you to the opening of the academic year 2020/21, which this year will be accompanied by a guest lecture by ruangrupa.

photo: Klaus Frahm

photo: Klaus Frahm

Summer Break

The HFBK Hamburg is in the lecture-free period, many students and teachers are on summer vacation, art institutions have summer break. This is a good opportunity to read and see a variety of things:

ASA Open Studio 2019, Karolinenstraße 2a, Haus 5; photo: Matthew Muir

ASA Open Studio 2019, Karolinenstraße 2a, Haus 5; photo: Matthew Muir

Live und in Farbe: die ASA Open Studios im Juni 2021

Since 2010, the HFBK has organised the international exchange programme Art School Alliance. It enables HFBK students to spend a semester abroad at renowned partner universities and, vice versa, invites international art students to the HFBK. At the end of their stay in Hamburg, the students exhibit their work in the Open Studios in Karolinenstraße, which are now open again to the art-interested public.

Studiengruppe Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger, Was animiert uns?, 2021, Mediathek der HFBK Hamburg, Filmstill

Studiengruppe Prof. Dr. Anja Steidinger, Was animiert uns?, 2021, Mediathek der HFBK Hamburg, Filmstill

Unlearning: Wartenau Assemblies

The art education professors Nora Sternfeld and Anja Steidinger initiated the format "Wartenau Assemblies". It oscillates between art, education, research and activism. Complementing this open space for action, there is now a dedicated website that accompanies the discourses, conversations and events.

Ausstellungsansicht "Schule der Folgenlosigkeit. Übungen für ein anderes Leben" im Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg; photo: Maximilian Schwarzmann

Ausstellungsansicht "Schule der Folgenlosigkeit. Übungen für ein anderes Leben" im Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg; photo: Maximilian Schwarzmann

School of No Consequences

Everyone is talking about consequences: The consequences of climate change, the Corona pandemic or digitalization. Friedrich von Borries (professor of design theory), on the other hand, is dedicated to consequence-free design. In “School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, he links collection objects with a "self-learning room" set up especially for the exhibition in such a way that a new perspective on "sustainability" emerges and supposedly universally valid ideas of a "proper life" are questioned.

Annual Exhibition 2021 at the HFBK

Annual exhibition a bit different: From February 12- 14, 2021 students at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts, together with their professors, had developed a variety of presentations on different communication channels. The formats ranged from streamed live performances to video programs, radio broadcasts, a telephone hotline, online conferences, and a web store for editions. In addition, isolated interventions could be discovered in the outdoor space of the HFBK and in the city.

Public Information Day 2021

How do I become an art student? How does the application process work? Can I also study to become a teacher at the HFBK? These and other questions about studying art were answered by professors, students and staff at the HFBK during the Public Information Day on February 13, 2021. In addition, there will be an appointment specifically for English-speaking prospective students on February 23 at 2 pm.

Katja Pilipenko

Katja Pilipenko

Semestereröffnung und Hiscox-Preisverleihung 2020

On the evening of November 4, the HFBK celebrated the opening of the academic year 2020/21 as well as the awarding of the Hiscox Art Prize in a livestream - offline with enough distance and yet together online.

Exhibition Transparencies with works by Elena Crijnen, Annika Faescke, Svenja Frank, Francis Kussatz, Anne Meerpohl, Elisa Nessler, Julia Nordholz, Florentine Pahl, Cristina Rüesch, Janka Schubert, Wiebke Schwarzhans, Rosa Thiemer, Lea van Hall. Organized by Prof. Verena Issel and Fabian Hesse; photo: Screenshot

Exhibition Transparencies with works by Elena Crijnen, Annika Faescke, Svenja Frank, Francis Kussatz, Anne Meerpohl, Elisa Nessler, Julia Nordholz, Florentine Pahl, Cristina Rüesch, Janka Schubert, Wiebke Schwarzhans, Rosa Thiemer, Lea van Hall. Organized by Prof. Verena Issel and Fabian Hesse; photo: Screenshot

Teaching Art Online at the HFBK

How the university brings together its artistic interdisciplinary study structure with digital formats and their possibilities.

Alltagsrealität oder Klischee?; photo: Tim Albrecht

Alltagsrealität oder Klischee?; photo: Tim Albrecht

HFBK Graduate Survey

Studying art - and what comes next? The clichéd images stand their ground: Those who have studied art either become taxi drivers, work in a bar or marry rich. But only very few people could really live from art – especially in times of global crises. The HFBK Hamburg wanted to know more about this and commissioned the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg to conduct a broad-based survey of its graduates from the last 15 years.

Ausstellung Social Design, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Teilansicht; photo: MKG Hamburg

Ausstellung Social Design, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Teilansicht; photo: MKG Hamburg

How political is Social Design?

Social Design, as its own claim is often formulated, wants to address social grievances and ideally change them. Therefore, it sees itself as critical of society – and at the same time optimizes the existing. So what is the political dimension of Social Design – is it a motor for change or does it contribute to stabilizing and normalizing existing injustices?