New feature: How Beeple crashed the art world

My latest piece for the New Yorker is a profile of the digital artist.

On Monday, The New Yorker published my latest feature, a profile of the digital artist Beeple, who recently sold a digital-only artwork at Christie’s for $69 million, the third-highest price ever for work by a living artist (below Jeff Koons and David Hockney). Beeple, aka Mike Winkelmann, is a surprisingly normal guy who has spent many years on the internet before hitting the jackpot in the meme economy. I hope you check out the profile, I think it’s really funny / entertaining (some notes below on the writing process):

How Beeple Crashed the Art World — The New Yorker

My New Yorker editor emailed me a few weeks ago and asked if I might want to write something on Beeple or non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the newly mainstream blockchain technology that allows someone to claim ownership of a jpeg image, video clip, or piece of text. I was happy to jump into it because NFTs are right at the overlap of a few of my interests: visual art, the persistence of art online, and the business of making culture. I emailed Beeple to see if he was up for being the subject of an in-depth profile — which are kind of a New Yorker specialty — and he and Christie’s both agreed to participate.

The rest was an absolute rush of long conversations with Beeple, research into NFTs, and conversations with the rest of the art world to find out how they were interpreting the huge sale. The story is kind of a collision: Beeple’s unabashed outsider perspective and the epic wealth of cryptocurrency against the more conservative art-world hierarchy of critics, curators, and galleries, who are the usual enforcers of taste. Everyone I spoke with seemed a little overawed with the sheer volume of money flooding into the space — big numbers even for the art market.

Profiles have been difficult to write during quarantine because they’re usually built around interaction with a subject, close observation in real life that the reader wouldn’t otherwise have access to — the classic celebrity luncheon moment, like M.I.A. eating truffle fries. In this case, I didn’t mind doing it over Zoom at all because Beeple is a creature of the internet (and so am I, really). All of the action of this story takes place online, in the realm of digital platforms. Beeple did it all from his average suburban home office outside of Charleston, just a guy with a computer who is suddenly and very randomly incredibly rich. The absurdity is what makes it interesting.

Here’s another link to the profile. Let me know what you think!