Castello di Rivoli acquires a work by Beeple, the digital artist of record

Entering the Castello di Rivoli collection is a work by Beeple, aka Mike Winkelmann, the world's most famous digital artist. The work is a scathing satire against cryptocurrency entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried.

Castello di Rivoli - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea has announced the addition to its permanent Collection of the work by Beeple (Mike Winkelmann; Fond du Lac, 1981) entitled FTX BOARD MEETING, DAY #5676 11.13.2022, donated by the artist to the Museum. The work, which exists in both the physical and digital realms, consists of a NFT (non-fungible token), or a digital image registered with blockchain technology via a smart contract in a unique 1/1 edition, and a physical component, a large oil painting on canvas.

The work already has a complicated history, because when Castello di Rivoli attempted to show Beeple’s work on the museum’s YouTube channel, it was censored by YouTube because of their rules against nudity. Although this image is unquestionably provocative, Beeple uses the visual language of pornography and the cartoonish graphics of the digital world to criticize what he sees as the recklessness and teenage immaturity of tech entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried, a very young patron of FTX (a cryptocurrency exchange company that collapsed in 2022).

The 31-year-old entrepreneur, one of the tech area’s youngest billionaires as of 2022, founder and former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange platform FTX, is the sole and main subject of FTX BOARD MEETING, DAY #5676 11.13.2022. The work is a satirical reflection on the affair involving Bankman-Fried, who was arrested in December 2022 following the collapse of his company, for wire fraud and money laundering. The allusions to Effective Altruism-a philosophical thought of William MacAskill preached by Bankman-Fried and often adopted by tech entrepreneurs-that can be read in the background of Beeple’s work contrast with the supposed conduct of FTX, which is accused of using billions of dollars from the exchange platform to finance risky operations of Bankman-Fried’s own currency company, Alameda Research, leading to the inevitable collapse of cryptocurrencies. The entrepreneur was also the subject of reports, leaked in the days following his arrest, that he engaged in frequent office orgies (the title, FTX BOARD MEETING, in fact means “FTX board meeting”). In this work, Beeple pokes fun at Bankman-Fried in a cathartic way, through the depiction of a computer orgy where the entrepreneur’s image is multiplied to the point of improbability and crosses any sexual gender, to the point of representing the pure onanism and solipsism of some parts of the new digital world. The reiteration of the same figure in the environment can also be read as an allusion to the very close circle of collaborators with whom Bankman-Fried worked and cohabited at a resort in the Bahamas.

Since May 1, 2007, Beeple has begun producing and posting a personally made image online every day, in an exercise in rigor and measuring the passage of time reminiscent of 20th-century conceptual practices, updated for the age of digital culture. Over time he has thus built a large community of fans, becoming one of the most prominent visual artists on social media, with 2.4 million followers on Instagram, more than 500,000 on Facebook, and over 760,000 on Twitter. Beeple entered the broader public consciousness when his work EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS was sold at auction by Christie’s for a record price of $69 million on March 11, 2021, at the height of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The work EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS is a compendium of the first 5,000 images made by the artist from 2007 to early 2021 and has captured the attention of the global digital community ’s international-scale reference sector for marking the beginning of a new chapter in art history: digital art. This daily exercise, practiced by Beeple for over 15 years, has inspired thousands of other digital artists to begin their “everyday” practice. The often figurative content, using diverse styles from Abstract Expressionism to illustration and science fiction, is political criticism of the anti-ecological use of technologies and extractive energy industries for pure profit, though often veiled in green hypocrisy and lies.

The artist extrapolates few Everyday from the great flow of his images to become single and unique NFTs in 1/1 editions constituting rare one-of-a-kind artworks, while some drops (online publications of his Everyday NFT images) appear periodically in more accessible editions of 100, like multiples.

"Beeple’s work FTX BOARD MEETING, DAY #5676 11.13.2022," says Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, director of the Castello di Rivoli, “constitutes an important donation that updates our permanent Collection with a work made in a highly contemporary medium that combines the digital and the physical. I am grateful to Mike Winkelmann for his generosity and respect for the museum tradition and our museum in particular.”

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev explains why she chose this particular 1/1 edition of Beeple:

“I wanted a strong image that was relevant to Beeple’s work. Although this image can be seen as provocative, the main reason that Beeple and NFT artists’ digital work has become known to the general public is the financial aspect of the digital world and Christie’s sale of Beeple, which was paid for in cryptocurrency. For me, the collapse of the crypto world in the wake of the FTX scandal and the speculative bubble that burst last year was one of the key moments in that world-it was like an atomic bomb going off in the cryptocurrency world. Beeple’s work is particularly controversial in that community because he is an artist who critiques the digital world. He questions the technology and the society that develops in relation to that technology, but using its system and structures. To me, Beeple is interesting as an artist in a similar way to Andy Warhol: they both criticize the society in which they are embedded. Warhol criticized the consumer society around him: that’s why he made the images of the electric chair, the tragic image of Marilyn Monroe and its endless repetitions and exaggerations of consumer culture. Many great artists use the new media and techniques of their time, but at the same time criticize them and show the risks of their ”new world.“ In this work, Beeple’s seemingly pornographic image also alludes to the childish, immature and narcissistic nature of the digital world. It is important that such art is not censored by social media companies and their algorithms.”

To mark the donation, the Museum is hosting a public conversation between the artist and Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, moderated by Digital Content Curator Giulia Colletti and streamed live on YouTube. The event will be followed by the presentation and signacopying of the volume Beeple: Everydays, the First 5000 Days (Abrams, New York, 2023), the first monograph dedicated to the artist, at the Castello di Rivoli Bookshop.

Beeple, FTX BOARD MEETING, DAY #5676 11.13.2022 (2022; Cinema 4D, Octane Render, Photoshop, NFT, oil on canvas, 182.9 x 147.3 cm; Rivoli, Castello di Rivoli - Museo d'Arte Contemporanea)
Beeple, FTX BOARD MEETING, DAY #5676 11.13.2022 (2022; Cinema 4D, Octane Render, Photoshop, NFT, oil on canvas, 182.9 x 147.3 cm; Rivoli, Castello di Rivoli - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea)

Notes on the artist

Michael Joseph Winkelmann (Fond du Lac, USA, 1981), known professionally as Beeple, was born in Missouri to a mother who is a senior center director and a father who is an engineer. He studies computer science at Purdue University. An American digital artist, graphic designer and animator, he is best known for producing short films, Creative Commons VJ loops, Everydays and NFT. In his art, he uses various technologies to create satirical and phantasmagorical works, usually figurative, that make critiques of contemporary politics and society by making use of pop culture, digital culture or new media references.

His gratuitous “VJ clips” have become ubiquitous in the visual space of concerts worldwide and can be found in work with Justin Bieber, Imagine Dragons, Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, One Direction, Zedd and many other artists, including artwork for the Super Bowl. Beeple’s work can also be found at the Tesla Gigafactory in Austin, Texas, commissioned by Elon Musk, and in major private digital art collections, such as those of Ryan Zurrer and Pablo Rodríguez Fraile. In April 2022 he collaborated with Madonna on a series of performance video works, Mother of Creation.

Beeple’s work has always been rooted in a desire to straddle the physical and digital, often working with objects connected to his NFTs. HUMAN ONE, from 2021, made its museum debut at Castello di Rivoli in April 2022 as part of the exhibition Expressions with Fractions, and was later exhibited at the M+ Museum in Hong Kong. In HUMAN ONE, the artist experiments by making a hybrid digital/physical work, composed of an NFT and a kinetic video-sculpture in the form of a large, self-supporting revolving box, whose post-gender metamorphic character between rider and astronaut walks endlessly through perpetually evolving virtual landscapes, perhaps alluding to loneliness to life in the metaverse that looms in the 21st century. FTX BOARD MEETING, DAY #5676 11.13.20 22 is a unique 1/1 work of Everyday posted on November 13, 2022 and includes a physical component-the painting-and a digital component-the online token.

In 2017 Winkelmann moved to Charleston, South Carolina, with his wife and two children to live near his brother Scott, an aeronautical engineer at Boeing.

Following the sale of EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS in March 2021 for $69 million, Scott leaves Boeing and begins working with his brother Mike. In spring 2023 they open Beeple Studios, a private museum of digital and immersive art, a community center, and a laboratory for new-world experimentation.

Castello di Rivoli acquires a work by Beeple, the digital artist of record
Castello di Rivoli acquires a work by Beeple, the digital artist of record

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