We tend to draw a firm line between the worlds of science and art, often to the detriment of both, so you might be surprised to hear that the art world and one of America’s hottest new technological buzzwords - Bitcoin - have more overlap than you might anticipate. Having already penetrated surprising areas of life like the restaurant business and the entertainment industry, it's not too unusual that the cryptocurrency now looks set to disrupt the $45 billion art industry too.
Add to this the fact that venues like Model Printing in the NoHo Arts district have started to accept the cryptocurrency, and you'll see it’s no longer possible for North Hollywood to avoid the reality the rest of the world has woken up to: Bitcoin is here to stay.
Still, though popular culture may imagine Bitcoin as the reserve of Silicon Valley billionaires and reclusive computer whizzes, these works of art from around the world prove that even the more artistic among us have not only been embracing Bitcoin but also incorporating it into their work.
The Last (Bitcoin) Supper
French artist Youl created this intricate and perhaps controversial work, which depicts a Jesus-like figure intended to represent the cryptocurrency surrounded by people from all walks of life as the disciples. The young, old, rich and poor are all represented, alongside even a figure from shadowy internet anarchist group Anonymous. This milieu symbolises the variety of people worldwide who have already invested in Bitcoin, ranging from individuals who have chosen to invest in the crypto-currency to the new businesses seeking to acommodate it, such as Bitcoin-only casinos like Vegas Casino, who use it as the only currency on the site to play games such as roulette, blackjack and slots.
In this way, just as different sects of Christianity can squabble over the correct interpretation of the scripture, as embodied by Jesus, Youl seems to be suggesting that ownership over and the very nature of Bitcoin is still up for debate. Is it an investment opportunity for pleasant old ladies, a means to make the super-rich richer or funding for internet anarchists?
True to the very modern nature of its subject matter, this painting was recently sold in an incredibly modern way: via eBay, for almost three thousand dollars.
Untitled Mining Installation
German artist Peter Frölich has created a pointed reflection on the connection between art and monetary value in this fully operational piece, apparently inspired by Banksy’s love of Bitcoin mining.
This piece, a functioning mining rig mounted in a baroque gold-plated frame questions the way our relationship to art - and particularly modern art - has become increasingly commercialised. Are artistic works worthwhile because they are beautiful and speak to us or merely as a financial investment? Does something perhaps ugly to many, such as exposed circuitry, become more attractive once we know it is actively creating value?
The artist outlines the hardware involved on his blog, alongside his own conflicted thoughts on the piece since, in his own words, he doesn’t like artworks made “solely for the purpose of making money”.
Silk Road Prison Art
A user of the website Reddit identified only by his username, YesterdaysNews2, created this piece of protest art in response to the incarceration of alleged Silk Road leader Ross Ulbricht, who is charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and computer hacking crimes. Silk Road was a website on the “dark web” frequently used to purchase drugs or other contraband. Ulbricht, who set the website up in 2011, is still fighting for his freedom in the Supreme Court.
The work’s response to this is attractively understated in a way that matches its monochrome aesthetic: it features the Bitcoin wallet address which formerly held the currency seized from Ulbricht before it was auctioned off by the FBI, alongside the Brooklyn prison where Ulbricht is being held.
Copies of the work are being sold for 1 BTC.
Bitcoin, despite the amount of media hub-bub it has attracted, has not been in the public eye for long, meaning that for now the range of artworks drawing on it as a direct inspiration is still relatively small. As it grows in the public consciousness, regardless of whether the currency collapses as some experts predict it will, it is likely we will begin to see more and more artists incorporate this cultural touchstone into the work they produce.