Originally published in French on Lundi Matin on Dec. 23rd 2017 here. Translation follows.
Richard Prince takes up Marcel Duchamp’s gesture with a new form of cryptocurrency in place of a urinal.
As Web Neutrality 2.0 beats its last few heartbeats, some artists are having a bit of fun with Web 3.0 and try in this moment to question technological infrastructures and the economic mechanisms behind this “new” web.
This is what this discrete post published yesterday on Reddit tells us:
The artist Richard Prince well known for his famous appropriations of Instagram photos has thus invested in Blockchain technology as a part of displaying his latest work.
The piece in question: a cryptocurrency put on the market as a single unit and named ReadyMadeToken. That which, in the “real” world, will result in the display of a single 1€ coin piece in a museum to thus invest it with the status of an art piece.
The display and auction sale of this unique coin piece is organized by the mysterious “distributedgallery” whose purpose is the following:
“The purpose of Richard Prince with this project is to experiment with blockchain technologies by altering the status of crypto-currencies: from an exchange medium to an exclusive artwork. With this gesture, Richard Prince questions what money is, puts the lights on the beliefs it relies on and its links to the art market.”
It will be a matter then of Richard Prince taking up Marcel Duchamp’s gesture when Duchamp displayed a urinal to the general public in 1917.
This cryptographic art piece may not be able to bleach away its evident financial interest by which it is indexed – the auction sale will stop when the the cap of 5000ETH (the equivalent of one Bitcoin) is met which as of right now is 3 million euros – but it also calls into question this new El Dorado for stock traders which is the cryptographic universe. Indeed, at the moment when the media cannot stop barraging us with the staggering price of Bitcoin – using this same moment to occasionally let loose a series of personal regrets for not having bought some Bitcoin a few years ago and thus find themselves financially unable to buy a Lamborghini – this piece questions our relationship with money, whether as a fiat or cryptographic currency.
That which is heralded everywhere as a “revolution”: blockchain, Bitcoin, the latest feats of crytography, finds itself perfectly made bare in the form of a coin piece which serves no other purpose than to buy something.
By inoculating the Duchampian gesture within the cryptographic universe, Richard Prince finally arrives at recalling the tautological movement of capitalism by repeating the primitive and structuring formula of the logic of Capital made known by Karl Marx in 1867: M-C-M’ (money – commodity – money + surplus value). Or put another way, the transformation of money into a commodity and then the re-transformation of a commodity into money.
At the same time that Richard Prince recalls the Duchamp’s gesture, he also from the onset opens up the possibility of an “eternal repetition.” Indeed, the Ready Made was not only a moment of great upheaval in the art world by conferring a sacred character to a random commodity by the simple performative pointing of an artist: it was and and still is a way to question our living link with the logic of Capital.
It seems then that with this ReadyMadeToken, Richard Prince supports the thesis which finds that the avant-garde is not something which appears one day just to disappear the next but a posture which repeats throughout different historical periods. Because to repeat the “ready made” brings back the critical attitude of Duchamp, as contradictory as it may be. Richard Prince’s choice to install his piece on blockchain technology is thus an occasion for him to demonstrate that this cryptographic universe is not immune to the centenary gesture of Marcel Duchamp. He also confirms its power with its capacity to traverse the course of history and still illuminate our present and its technological possibilities, as grand or absurd as they may be.