Opinion | For $800, You Too Can Sort of Be In On This Joke

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Some of the NFT mania reminded me of Mr. Klein: people laying claim to things that are immaterial, widely available or both, generating a false scarcity in service of profit.

Demian Thirst, the artist, told me that he was intentionally borrowing from Mr. Klein and that by copycatting his style with “Monochrome Blue Numérique,” he was attempting to connect this cultural craze to the history of conceptual art and rehash some of Mr. Klein’s enduring questions for the digital era.

“I think so much of this NFT conversation has been ahistoric,” Demian Thirst told me in a recent telephone interview. “I wanted to open up a bit these discussions about authorship, about originality in NFTs.”

If his commitment to metaphysical cheekiness is in any doubt, then check out his pseudonym, a play on the name of another commercially successful artist-slash-stunt master, Damien Hirst. “It’s a bit reflective,” he said. “And it’s also a bit of an elaborate joke, putting a mirror up to the medium.”

While blockchain technology is newfangled, convoluted ideas of originality aren’t. We insist that the “Mona Lisa” in the Louvre is the one and only true “Mona Lisa,” despite the plethora of mugs and umbrellas and fancy posters printed with her image.

Even if I screenshot “Monchrome Bleu Numérique” — as I already have — I don’t own it because I don’t own the NFT. But what happens, for instance, if someone mints my tweet about this story on “Monochrome Bleu Numérique” as an NFT — a collectible on its own? Demian Thirst has, more or less, taken an idea from Mr. Klein, slapped it on the internet and put it up for sale.

“Of course, this is an original work,” he said. “But on the other hand, it isn’t really.”

So despite the fad, it seems there’s little that’s fundamentally fresh in the NFT-art space — just a new iteration of the anxieties and ambitions that have defined the art world for at least a century.

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