I am an art collector. This is a confession and a point of pride. I love art, I love seeing art and experiencing art and being surrounded by art. It’s inspiring and makes the world a better place. Here are some observations I’ve had recently that, while unrelated, somehow fit together…
One: I have been collecting art for over 30 years. When my family and I moved to Tokyo from Los Angeles, we put it all in storage with the intent to have it crated up and shipped up once we got settled long term. Visa struggles and what not, that didn’t end up happening so we never shipped the art. Then we moved to Canada and thought we’d get it then – but COVID and border closures threw a wrench into those plans. Now we’re not sure how long we’re staying in Canada so the thought of spending a bunch of time and effort to move art here seems perhaps ill advised. The result of all this, is that the vast majority of our physical art collection is sitting in storage in another country, and we haven’t seen any of it in almost 7 years.
Two: Being an admitted art collector, over that time I’ve continued buying art from artists I love. Many of these pieces were shipped to me rolled up and as any art collector knows you do not want to keep flat art rolled up for too long. In the old days, when I co-owned an art gallery, I had flat files as a safe and secure place to keep unframed art. I no longer have flat files and have committed to framing work so that I can hang it and enjoy it. I recently took about 10 pieces to a local framer and while the results look amazing the multi-thousand dollar bill was a reminder that everything about collecting art isn’t always fun or easy. This print by Sean Higgins looks amazing though.
Three: Once I got those pieces back I had to find room to hang them. In some cases that meant moving other pieces around. This is fun, but also not fun. It’s hard to explain but if you have made a habit out of hanging and rehanging and rearranging art, you know what I mean. If you have any kind of ADHD then you really know what I mean.
Four: When art collectors get together a very common topic is “how do you find new artists?” and earlier this month while I was in Tokyo hanging out at Bright Moments this topic came up a lot. The answer to that question, time and time again, was Deca. I’ve had an account there for a while now but I confess to not really understanding it. After that trip I spent some time exploring and playing with the galleries that you can create, curating collections and art into many different easily browsable pages and I easily made some little galleries showing off some of the photography and generative work I’ve collected, as well as separate galleries for artists like Derech, Piv and Crashblossom from whom I have many works, among others. It’s also incredibly easy to browse around and see what work other people are putting into galleries and quickly find curators or groups you want to follow because you have similar tastes. I’ve really enjoyed looking through the genart group for example. It became very clear to me why collectors are spending time here.
Five: Deca isn’t the only way to show off digital work, I’ve long had a gallery space in Voxels and have enjoyed looking through galleries others have created in OnCyber. I have some OnCyber galleries myself but haven’t had the chance to update them recently. There are at least a dozen other gallery platforms people are using as well. Point being, people are spending a lot of time building ways to curate blockchain based digital art, and collectors are dedicating just as much time to showing off what they have.
Then it hit me.
If I’m out, anywhere in the world, it’s very easy for me to pull up an online gallery and show off artwork that I love. It’s very difficult for me to show off physical work that is hanging in my house (or worse, in storage). If I move (as I’m known to do) it’s very easy (and free) for me to bring my digital collection with me. It’s very hard (and expensive) for me to bring my physical collection with me. Worse if it’s international.
Six: Another thing that became apparent to me in Tokyo while visiting several galleries is how quickly the “digital canvas” products are improving. Currently Whim and Grail and other digital art displays are quite pricey, but Infinite Objects frames are super reasonable and satisfy the object lust thing quite well. And truthfully when you consider professional framing can cost $400 for a single piece, a digital canvas that shows your entire collection being $4000 isn’t insane, it’s steep for sure, but that price will come down over time as well. And as we more museums exploring ways to show off digital artists like Refik Anadol people will continue to get more comfortable with this idea of real art on screens.
Just to argue against myself for a moment, for more than 20 years now I’ve had friends telling me the wonders of dumping their CDs, DVDs, Books etc in favor of digital libraries & streaming. I’ve largely resisted, and while I’ve mostly transitioned to a digital movie library to be honest it’s not the same. I miss scanning the spines of DVDs and being reminded of a favorite film I want to watch again. This is why I still have all my books and vinyl, I can’t imagine not browsing or holding the objects in my hands. But yes, this comes with a cost – both in space around the house and a monetary one if/when I move. Not to mention the stress. But it’s worth it, because if I don’t see these items, if I’m not accidentally surrounded by them, I don’t experience (and enjoy them) the same way.
As someone who has been buying and collecting physical art since the mid 90’s, and loves looking at the texture and process in physical work, I assumed my position would forever be the same here too. I’m not saying it’s changed, but I’m more open to it than I might have been before. I was never opposed to digital art, don’t get me wrong, but I see a much larger use case and adoption potential now than I did say even 5 years ago. Consider these bits of conversations I’ve had recently:
“I never cared about art until 2 years ago when someone gave me an NFT, now it’s all I think about and I’m buying new art almost every week.” – An accountant
“I used to spent money on 5 digit wine, now I buy jpgs.” – A lawyer
“A water pipe broke and flooded my basement, at least 10 large canvas pieces were ruined” – A collector
“I used to go crazy when I was away from the studio, I had ideas and no way to move on them. Opening myself up to working remotely with my iPad, I can’t imagine ever being so locked down again.” – An artist
That last comment piqued my curiosity and it didn’t take long to find out that Procreate, the most popular professional iPad illustration app is primarily used by “younger artists” with official recommendations that it can be used by kids as young as 8, and unofficially as young as 4. While artists today might have a hard time learning new tools (and honestly, they don’t need to), looking ahead 20 years from now, artists who grow up with them aren’t going to think twice about it. They will be making natively digital art already. Qubibi is an artist I learned about in Tokyo and immediately bought a piece from, this is work that couldn’t exist physically.
The problem with digital art has always been provenance – if all copies are the same then where is the motivation to collect an original, of course NFTs and blockchains solve this (as well as many other problems artists have had like attribution, royalties, etc) and again this next generation of younger artists are growing up with this knowledge inherent. While the old people, the “thought leaders and influencers” argue and fret about it, the young people are embracing it and moving forward. The old people will die and the young people will take over, just as always.
And to be clear I’m not arguing for a move from physical art to digital art, I’m just observing that I think the adoption of digital art is going to be massive. As an art collector I’m always excited to walk into someones house (or office) and see an original piece of art and I think in the very near future people will have displays showing off their bad ass 1 of 1 (or small edition) digital art collections. And to people who might worry about the new wave of digital artists putting the physical artists out of work – that’s nonsense. First of all many artists who have successful careers making physical art have easily integrated digital into their world, just as they did prints or any number of other things before. I think the world is big enough for all kinds of art in various formats, and I think the ease and access that digital art provides is going to introduce way more people to art than we could have ever anticipated. I’m also so excited about new opportunities for artists and collectors – for example I’ve been lusting after the hardware customizations by tachyons+ for over a decade and their work inspired a lot of what I did with CMHHTD, recently I learned they were not only making hardware but also now selling digital art produced with their own devices and I was able to buy this piece. I love it, and might have to get an Infinite Objects frame for it.
I’ll always have physical art, I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but if I’m honest, I think it would be pretty amazing to be able to swap out all the art in my house with with a different “exhibition” from my collection with a single click. Lets see where the future takes us.
As editions of the first piece from my new “Connections” series have started to find homes, I thought I’d take a moment to talk a little bit about what I’m doing with this series, where it’s coming from and why.
I was a designer before I was a photographer and the initial motivation to pick up a camera stemmed from needing to fill a design element, so my initial look through the lens was purely aesthetic. Obviously I moved into storytelling later, but I never stopped thinking of composition. One could argue that street photography is also an experiment in abstracting the subject, but that might be a bit of a bleak take. Camera in hand, I intentionally tried to look at things a little differently than what I saw from others around me, and this lead to trying out different angles and perspectives. Often I found myself looking up.
Right away I was attracted to the similarities, stark feeling and contrast of both power lines and leafless tree branches in winter. Especially in black and white, which is my default. I started taking pictures of these right away, again with a “layout” approach and if you followed my early flickr, instagram and various other “moblogs” you might remembers these as recurring themes. The overhead rat’s nest power lines of Tokyo only exacerbated this fascination so once I started spending time there my collection of these images started multiplying.
In the past 2 decades I’ve amassed hundred of these photos, always feeling that there was something to them that I just couldn’t put my finger on, and if I just kept scratching at it sooner or later the connection would reveal itself to me. In the meantime I kept looking up and kept collecting photographs of settings that struck me. One thing I started thinking about a while ago was how both tree branches and power lines (or telephone wires in some cases) were means for transmission. Information being sent back and forth. And of course the duality that finds its way into all my work was present here as well, bouncing between the natural and the manmade. Intentional vs accidental, or maybe questioning how much intent is actually in the natural.
I kept finding new ways that these images and their subjects were similar and for a while I considered doing an exhibition that just juxtaposed the two sets, allowing the viewer to make the visual connection on their own but something about that wasn’t quite working for me. It felt unfinished. Around this time I started playing with AI. While I loved the idea of text prompt generated imagery, I was immediately fascinated by the idea of feeding my own work into the machine and seeing what it spit back at me. I loved the distorted abstraction and a kind of return to shapes and light and a step away from the literal subject that had been the focus of my original photos and in a way pushed me to look at my work a little differently again.
(Above: A crow in Tokyo by me, Below: Dall-E reimagining my crow)
As I continued to play with these new tools I thought again of the images of trees and wires that I’d been amassing and I began seeing what AI might make of them. The first attempts were admittedly uninspired though I didn’t really have a clear idea what I was looking for. Just kind of poking around to see if I stumbled across something interesting. Telephone poles that look like trees? No. Tree branches that look like power lines? No. The further I got away from my work the less interesting I found it, and in that realization I hit on something. What if I returned to my work very intentionally? What If I seeded the AI with several images and asked it to combine them – not in a “give me one photo of trees and powerlines” kind of way, but in a “here’s a bunch of images of the same thing, combine them” kind of way. What I got back was brilliant.
Without the projected human context of “this is this kind of thing, that is that kind of thing – and they are different things” the AI just looked at the shapes and structures and tried to imagine what it would look like for them all to fit together. This was the missing piece I’d been looking for – it wasn’t a question of how do these two distinct bodies of work fit together, but how could I combine them into a singular thing that continued to work with the narrative I’d been building.
These new images did exactly that – this collaboration being a direct synthesis of the human and synthetic, a merger of the natural and the manmade. Suddenly the relationships get more confusing and more less straight forward. The clear lines between one and the other fall apart. The black and white (both color and theme) becomes endless shades and interpretations of grey. Thinking back on the notion of communication, it’s less clear what kind of information is being sent, and where, and by whom. I’m always attracted to art that makes me ask questions and that’s hard to do with my own work because I usually have the answer to begin with, but this brought some of the that uncertainty into play. These outputs, unquestionably grown from my own imagery, had become their own thing leaving the viewer with much more room for their own individual assessment.
I decided to create 2 different distinct collections – editions and 1/1s. To differentiate them the editions will be a 1:1 square format and the 1/1s will be more traditional 4:3 landscape aspect ratio. There will also be a series of physical prints, and potentially a book collecting them all at some point in the future. Because of how deeply invested in this process I’ve become I decided that the actual distribution of these pieces should also be part of the project and fit into the concept of connections and relationships. To that end, I’ve begun gifting the first piece in the editions collection to people that I meet in person. This piece is effectively an open editions, until I decide to close it and while it may end up on the secondary market at some point minting will only ever be available from me, directly, in person. I’m not selling this piece, it’s a free gift from me to the recipient which further contributes to the concept of relationships and connections. Each future piece in the editions collection will be available to different groups of people under different circumstances. These will be announced as they are released.
I’m still deciding how and when to release the 1/1 collection and if I’ll do it on my own or through a curated platform. I’m still fine tuning which pieces will make up that collection, and how large it will be. A lot of potential directions here and decisions I’ll make as I get to them. In the meantime the focus is on the editions, and I’m very happy that so far the people I’ve given one to have resonated with the project and appreciated how it’s coming together. I’ve set up an Instagram account for this project specifically and will be posting art there as I make it public. Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this look behind the curtain.
When we talk about Cryptopunks and the controversy surrounding the V1 contract, there’s always the question of respecting the artist’s wishes. In general I agree that an artist gets to decide what their art is and isn’t as long as they are working on it, but once they release that work to the public it’s out of their hands. Public reception to a piece of art and the artists intention are two wholly separate things. With Cryptopunks this gets a even muddier because we aren’t just talking about a difference between intention and reception, we’re talking about hindsight and ongoing revisions to a narrative. The artist’s intention when the work was released and how they feel about the work several years after the fact may not be the same thing and shouldn’t be conflated. Add to this a healthy dose of misinformation and misunderstanding, even from supposedly authoritative sources, and you have widespread audience confusion. I hope to help clarify some of that a bit with this article.
It would be impossible to address every rumor, however there are two core themes I hear time and time again; Firstly that V1 Cryptopunks were never intended to be released (this takes on various forms: I’ve heard claims that they were a beta release, only a prototype, or as I’ve just heard recently that they were an unreleased experiment, stolen years later by hackers straight from the artists hard drive) and secondly that the “artists wishes” are the end-all-be-all when it comes to art appreciation.
So let’s unpack this. As a refresher Cryptopunks were released to the public on June 9th 2017 as a free claim. They were fully claimed by June 18th which was also when a bug was discovered in the contract, a new contract was published on June 23rd. The “new” Cryptopunks were airdropped to people who had claimed the “old” cryptopunks and with minor exception until 2022 anytime anyone talked about Cryptopunks they were referring to the “new” contract. The primary problem with all iterations of the “they were never intended to be released” story is that it erases everything that happened between June 9th and June 23rd.
On June 16th Mashable published an article about Cryptopunks and both Matt Hall and John Watkinson (collectively Larva Labs) are quoted in it. It’s very clear from the article that they are talking about a project that has already been released, not a project they are planning to release in the future. A quick read of this thread by Matt Hall in the r/ethereum board on Reddit posted on June 9th, 2017 should remove any question that the project was released, Matt even explains how to claim a punk in the comments. It’s entirely safe to say that had a bug not been discovered this would have been the single Cryptopunks collection. Just as a revised or expanded edition of a book doesn’t magically undo the release of the earlier version, the new Cryptopunks contract published on June 23rd doesn’t change the fact that separate contract was released to the public 2 weeks earlier.
I feel like I need to be exceptionally clear here – I’m not arguing about which contract is “the real one” or challenging the fact that the V2 contract is unquestionably the official version, but the often repeated claim that the V1 contract was never intended to be released is entirely false. What is true is that when Larva Labs released the V2 contract they assumed because of the bug in the V1 contract which prevented sales, people would simply lose interest and forget about it. And for a while that is what happened, but the thing about code and bugs is that people often find ways to patch them, and the thing about history is people like the stories. So while it’s fair to say that after the release of the V2 contract the artists did not expect the V1 contact to be traded, it’s incorrect to say that at no point did they intend to release the V1 contract.
Skip ahead a few years to 2022 when people started trading V1 Cryptopunks (thanks to a newly released wrapper that patched the bug), there’s no question at all that the artists did not want this to happen and they stated as much publicly. Surely the artists position on their own art is important, right? Well, kind of… but on some level this is like a parent raising a child, they have hopes and dreams for their children but at some point their children grow up and move out and have their own lives independent of their parents wishes. When an artist puts work into the public, what happens after that is not really something the artist gets to control.
It’s clear from statements Matt & John made in 2017 that they were intentionally publishing something onto the blockchain in a way that was immutable and out of their hands, and part of the “experiment” as they called it was to see what people would do with it. I think there’s a very good argument to be made that the artists intention – part of the art in fact – was very much for the work to have a life of it’s own. The friction arises because the path that work eventually took wasn’t what they’d initially imagined.
Go! Be free! Wait, no! Not like that!!
But let’s abstract this argument a bit and look for other examples in art and culture where a creator made something, released it to the public, and then changed their mind. This happens all the time in fact, but I picked 3 well known examples to illustrate a variety of outcomes and interpretations, and asked my Twitter followers about them.
Blade Runner. In Philip K Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” the main character Rick Deckard is unquestionably human. For the movie adaptation screenwriter David Peoples made that much more questionable, and in the film itself which famously has several revisions of its own, director Ridley Scott is quite forcefully painting Deckard as a replicant. Public opinion has largely accepted that position, even though it’s distinctly not what the artist intended. Now you could argue that the movie and the book are different in many ways, and given that they were made by different people one is more accurately a derivative, or inspired by the other, rather than being a direct reflection of it and I’d probably agree with you, but I think it’s an important example none the less as it shows that most people aren’t even aware of how the character was originally written.
But what about an artist changing their own work? George Lucas did exactly that with Star Wars. The 1997 “Special Edition” made a number of significant changes to his 1977 film, primarily in the way of visual effect but also to the story itself. The most famous of these is the Cantina scene where Han Solo kills Greedo. In the original film, Han shoots first which casts him in the role of aggressor. In the update, Greedo shoots first and Han dodges and returns fire in self defense. This is a drastic shift in narrative for a beloved character, and while the “official” version has Greedo shooting first, and Lucas, the artist, has disavowed the original storyline, it’s quite clear the public is not on board with that. Even though all currently available versions of the film have this update, (this is an important detail – you can not buy or rent a current day production of Star Wars with Han shooting first) fans still insist Han shooting first is more authentic.
I say fans intentionally here because I’m talking about people who love Star Wars, love the characters and love the universe. These are not haters or critics, they are fans. Fans who love a piece of work created by an artist, and simply disagree with something the artist later changed. This is important to note because I often see people who speak fondly of V1 cryptopunks being accused of hating or trying to fud the V2 or “official” Cryptopunks collection and I don’t believe the to be true. I think these are fans, people who love the art, and simply disagree with the artist’s current position.
Another film example is Steven Spielberg who, for the 20th anniversary of E.T. The Extra Terrestrialdigitally altered some scenes where FBI agents with guns are chasing children. Spielberg said that in modern context that could be interpreted the wrong way, and he replaced the guns with walkie talkies. Again here fans of the work had their own opinions about this change, some welcomed it and others argued this changed the entire feel of the film. They remembered being children themselves and watching these scenes and being terrified for the young characters in the film, a feeling that was lost with the FBI agents suddenly being less threatening. Years of debate raged on and for the 30th anniversary Spielberg actually put the guns back into the film and stated that he was disappointed in himself for making the change in the first place. In my poll this has a less decisive public opinion with an almost even split about which way it happened, and I think this illustrates well the separation between artist and audience.
These are well known examples but history is full of this kind of thing. From J. D. Salinger pulling his writings from publications after the popularity of Catcher In The Rye to Kanye West continuing to change his album Donda after it was released. “Done” is a fairly flexible concept to many creatives.
To belabor the point, artists intentions change over time. And people may connect with one position and object to another, but artists can’t dictate what people will resonate with or how their work is received. They can, as is the case of Star Wars, say “This is the real version now, and this is the only version I like” but even Lucas doesn’t deny the earlier version exists, and Disney who now owns the Star Wars franchise offers officially licensed merchandise embracing the debate.
My argument here is twofold – I maintain that there is no rule fans must agree with an artist’s feelings about their art, and that’s OK. I think people can be dedicated fans and deeply love a work of art while disagreeing with how the artist themselves feel about it. This is not inherently disrespectful, and these differences often create a richer story and fandom.
I also think this history is important. To the timeline, but also to the people who played a role in the story.
Speaking again about Cryptopunks, Matt & John have stated that these were not immediately embraced by the public (it took almost 12 hours for the first Cryptopunk to be claimed) and for several days they thought the experiment was a flop. While a few people had claimed some, by the time the Mashable article ran on June 16th, a week after release, there were still a significant number of punks that hasn’t yet been claimed. The article kicked off a claiming frenzy and a day later they were all spoken for – but this is also part of the story and being able to look at the on-chain history and see if a particular punk was claimed before or after the Mashable article is fascinating. For some of the people who were there and claimed their punks before that article ran, this is a point of pride. That history is lost if you only look at the V2 contract, which shows all 10,000 Cryptopunks were claimed on June 23rd.
Like any of the examples above, this is something that some people might not care about but others care about deeply. And it’s those stories and history which makes things special. The story of V1 Cryptopunks being released, being flawed, being forgotten, and being brought back to life by the fans is powerful and adds another rich layer of texture to what is already the incredible story. As a fan myself, I’m glad others recognize this and I love learning more and talking about it with friends who share my passion.
To end this with a call to action, one that is potentially more important than this footnote makes it out to be – Yuga Labs, who is now the owner of the Cryptopunks brand (they are the Disney to Lucas’s Star Wars) has undertaken the not-insignificant job of placing Cryptopunks into contemporary art museums, with the intention of ensuring punks are protected and regarded as the culturally important artifacts that they are. Sadly, thus far these donations have only included the V2 Cryptopunk even though Yuga Labs is in possession of the V1 punks as well. While I understand they need to maintain a position on what is “official” I’m disappointed by their denial of the “original” and I sincerely hope they will reconsider, as Spielberg did, and donate the matching V1 Cryptopunks to those museums as well. Even Larva Labs kept the V1 & V2 punks together in the same wallet for over 5 years before transferring them to Yuga. This history is important and should be preserved for the next generation of fans to enjoy.
From the early days of screen names and /nick to usernames and avatars and anons and on and on we’ve continually struggled with (or perhaps played with, depending on who you ask) how best to represent ourselves online. Hell, how we represent ourselves offline is already difficult enough and forever falls back on who you know, who will vouch for you, and your reputation – all of which is easily manipulated. That’s 1000x more complicated online where in most cases you don’t actually have any idea who you are interacting with. The dismissive cliche leading up to the dot com boom was that anyone you spoke to online was really some overweight, socially inept dude still living in his parents basement, especially if they were representing themselves as an attractive woman. This stereotype was largely driven by people who weren’t online and saw no reason to get online and just wanted to poo-poo anyone else who did. But then “being online” got profitable and that made all these other people get interested and suddenly there was a rush and people who had been mocking anyone spending time on the internet needed a way to be on the internet but make it clear they weren’t like those other people on the internet. Proving who you are, while also allowing you to be who you want, has been a struggle ever since.
One of the things that I and others have been thinking and talking about is how Web3 has to some extent freed us from the constraints of the avatar and given us some further flexibility as to how we manage our online identities. Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a lot of words about avatars and identities, largely focusing on community membership and how the ability to own an NFT which becomes your access to and identity within a community, and being able to have wallets with multiple NFTs that you can switch between depending on context was both scary and exciting.
One thing I observed was that being able to prove you owned an NFT which you were using as your avatar allowed for some authenticity and reliability, and while of course anyone else could right-click-save that image and use it themselves (and we’ve seen a lot of scams emerge doing just that) the increasing ability to gate some interactions or prove ownership as verification was quite the revolution. I can use my CryptoPunk while interacting in the private CryptoPunk discord and my Bored Ape while interacting in the private Bored Ape discord and in both cases everyone knows it’s me, just kind of wearing a different outfit to fit the occasion. Of course, we’ve also seen that people gravitate to one of their avatars more than others and begin to use that across platforms and that avatar starts being associated with them. This is super interesting for lots of reasons, not the least of which is what happens when an NFT avatar is deeply associated with someone and then they very publicly get rid of it as we saw with Punk #4156, or it becomes so much of who they are they couldn’t part with it? Are these little images now subject to typecasting? So once again a solution presents new complications.
And this is where things get super fascinating, because what if the image that becomes so associated with you and your online identity, isn’t “the real” thing (whatever that means)? Consider for a moment the case of CryptoPunk #1060 vs CryptoPhunk #1060.
I’ve written about CryptoPhunks before and won’t repeat myself here as it’s a complex discussion, but will just note for anyone unfamiliar that the imagery of the CryptoPhunks collection (released in 2021) is a 1:1 mirror image derivative of the CryptoPunks collection (released in 2017). There’s a lot more to it than that, but in this context that’s the important detail. In the case of #1060, one of these is used regularly as an avatar and the other sits dormant in an unused wallet. As an experiment I recently posted CryptoPunk #1060 on Twitter and asked people who first came to mind:
Obviously this is not scientific and is biased by who follows me and what communities they spend time in but the point I was trying to make was pretty obvious. Chopper is a developer who is very active in web3 building open source software and helping to manage several overlapping communities. Chopper does not own CryptoPunk #1060. He does own CryptoPhunk #1060 and has used it as his avatar everywhere for more than a year to the point that this image, regardless of which way it’s facing, reminds people of him. For all intents and purposes, in the world of web3, it is him. This is aided by the fact that the “original” CryptoPunk is sitting unused in a wallet that hasn’t been active in over 3 years. Is it lost forever? Maybe. Could it suddenly be reactivated and sell tomorrow? Maybe. But what does that matter, because the association between the person and the imagery is already so strong. And this is far from the only example, I could easily do the same experiment with the photographer Ruff Draft. This leads to the question how much does authenticity matter, or does the entire notion of authenticity need to be revised in this context. What happens when the derivative becomes more recognizable than the original? What if someone with ill intent bought CryptoPunk #1060 and started using it as their avatar? What if somehow Chopper came into possession of CryptoPunk #1060, would he change his identity to face the other direction? I somehow doubt it. We know that the value of a CryptoPunk can be increased because of how it’s used, so could the value of one also be decreased because it’s not used, or because of how a derivative is being used?
I don’t think the answers to these questions are as cut and dry as many of us would like to believe, and that complicates the relationship between ownership and identity, as well as how much value (financial and social) words and concepts like “original” or “official” or “authentic” hold. If actions speak louder than words, does that apply to avatars as well? Is this a new example of “use it or lose it?” Earlier this week one of the most iconic and recognizable CrytpoPunks sold for $4.5 Million dollars to an anonymous buyer. The previous owner held it for almost 2 years but didn’t use it as his avatar – will the new owner embrace and put to use this newly acquired identity they just spent so much money on, or will they neglect it and let someone else usurp them?
I’ve been a fan of and have written about CryptoPunks for a long time now. Ever since V1s resurfaced in early 2022 there’s been a lot of confusion around the collection. If that first sentence lost you, perhaps read my earlier article explaining CryptoPunk versions before going any further. As I get questions regularly from people and I see the same errors pop up, I thought it would be helpful to address some of the most common misconceptions, with citations, to help everyone better understand both the history and current events. I recognize this is somewhat of a controversial topic but I think everyone is better served by understanding the actual facts, rather than having to make decisions based on rumor. Here are the 10 things I see mixed up most often:
1. “They were never intended to be released” or “They were just a beta release” This is probably the most widespread narrative and it’s incorrect. The V1 CryptoPunks contract was published on June 9th, 2017, and released to the public. Of course it wasn’t called “V1” at the time, it was just called “CryptoPunks” and for several weeks these were the only CryptoPunks that existed. This Mashable article, published on June 16, 2017, discusses the release and notes that they are still being claimed. It’s very clear from this article that this was a real release and not just a beta test or something accidentally published. The marketplace function on the CryptoPunks contract wasn’t enabled until they were all claimed which happened on June 17th, 2017 and it was at that point the marketplace bug was discovered. The V2 contract was published on June 23, 2017. Also telling, On March 4, 2018 Larva Labs filed a visual copyright registration for “CryptoPunks” citing a publication date of June 9th, 2017 – so in 2018 LarvaLabs is on legal record stating that CryptoPunks launched on June 9th, not June 23rd and that registration remains active today.
2. What exactly is “The Bug”? What “The Bug” is: In the marketplace, eth from a sale is withdrawable by the buyer, not the seller. What “The Bug” is not: A problem with the image, a broken token, a broken “picture frame”, an invalid NFT, a non-functional NFT, a backdoor to your wallet, etc etc etc… Two points which need clarification here are 1) if you are not using the marketplace function, there is no problem with the V1 contract and no risk in holding the token; and 2) the marketplace actually functions exactly as it was written. The problem is that they way LarvaLabs wrote it and how they intended to write it, are different. This seems like nit picking but it’s an important detail LarvaLabs have expressed themselves repeatedly – this was the first solidity contract they ever wrote and they simply misunderstood how the code worked. It’s not a “ooops, we put the comma in the wrong place and broke it” kind of bug, it’s the “Well that works, it just works differently than we hoped it would work” kind of bug. If you would like to see exactly what was changed between the V1 & V2 CryptoPunks contracts this difference checker link makes it very easy to understand and see just how much additional code was added in the V2 contract.
Important Note: The marketplace in the V2 contract fixed the bug of the V1 marketplace so Ether from a sale properly goes to the seller now, and it added bidding which is massive new feature that didn’t exist in V1. That said, it also has its own “bug” in that bids can be frontrun and this happens regularly. What this means is Anne has a CryptoPunk but it’s not listed for sale. Billy makes a bid for it. Anne accepts the bid that Billy placed, but Chip was watching and using a script, instantly places a bid on Anne’s CryptoPunk that is a fraction of an eth higher than the bid Billy placed, and so Chip buys the CryptoPunk even though Anne accepted the bid placed by Billy. The marketplace can “accept bid” but it doesn’t specify which bid. This is a real problem that has caused a lot of heartbreak over the years, so it’s not like the V2 marketplace contract is somehow perfect either. This, as well as the lack of ability to place wETH bids on multiple CryptoPunks simultaneously (as is the norm on modern marketplaces) is a frequently discussed pain point.
3. Without a wrapper, V1 CryptoPunks have no image. This one is slightly less straight forward only because most of our expectations are built on how modern NFTs (ERC-721 & ERC-1155 tokens) function. CryptoPunks predate these standards and are actually a modified ERC-20 token (more closely related to wETH, $APE, Matic, etc than to BAYC or CloneX) and unlike modern NFTs that each have their own image, both the V1 & V2 CryptoPunks contracts point to one single image that contains all 10k CryptoPunks. The token references a coordinate on that image and a web front end can then visualize which CryptoPunk in that one image the token is referencing. I must stress that this is the situation with V1 & V2 CryptoPunks. They are identical in this respect. Modern marketplaces like OpenSea or Rarible can display CryptoPunks because they’ve written custom code to handle the requirements of that specific contract function – something they’ve done because of the popularity of CryptoPunks. But this is also why you can’t buy or sell CryptoPunks on OpenSea or Rarible unless you first wrap them into an ERC-721 token. So again to be clear, when it comes to the image both the V1 & the V2 CryptoPunks function exactly the same, and in fact point to the exact same image.
4. What the V1 wrapper actually is/does, or “Wrapping it makes it no longer real” As I mentioned in point 3, CryptoPunks are not ERC-721 tokens so they don’t work natively in environments designed for ERC-721 tokens. If you want them to, then you need to “wrap them” inside an ERC-721. Think of it like a box you might use for shipping something to a friend in another city. The wrapper holds the original CryptoPunk token and gives the holder an ERC-721 token which works natively in those environments. At any point the holder of the ERC-721 token can “unwrap” it and receive their original CryptoPunk token back. Since “the bug” is only in the marketplace function, wrapping it resolves this and allows the CryptoPunk to be traded safely on modern marketplaces. In fact this exact thing has been done for years with V2 CryptoPunks as well to allow them to be traded on other marketplaces. Both V1 & V2 CryptoPunks need to be wrapped in order to trade them on marketplaces like OpenSea, the only technical difference is that V2 CryptoPunks can also be traded on their own built in marketplace as well. A quick search on the CryptoPunks Discord shows that selling CryptoPunks on other marketplaces has been a recurring community ask going back many years.
5. “There was community consensus to migrate away from the V1 contract” At the R.A.R.E. Digital Arts Festival in 2018 Matt Hall from LarvaLabs explicitly states on video that it was a controversial decision to make a V2 contract. Matt states that many people in the community felt that the thing they owned was in the V1 contract and the creation of a new contract would cause problems and complicate things (which it did, as evidence by the fact that I’m even writing this now in 2022), but he says they chose to ignore those concerns and “just hope for the best.” When they published the V2 contract they changed the official Marketplace to interact with the new contract rather than the old one, so the community had no actual choice but to move on with the new contract, for better or worse. A tweet by John during this time suggested they understood this forcing mechanism. This was not the last time Larva Labs would butt heads with their community and in their own statement regarding the recent sale of the CryptoPunks IP to Yuga Labs, they state “as this category of “Profile Picture Projects” (PFP) grew into an industry in itself, we found ourselves less and less suited to the operation of these projects. Our personalities and skill sets aren’t well suited to community management, public relations, and the day-to-day management” suggesting that “community consensus” was never something they were too deeply invested in.
6. Larva Labs (the artist) has disavowed V1s, and the artists intention matters most. Matt & John at Larva Labs are brilliant artists who clearly have visionary foresight and have helped shape the world of digital collectables we know today, arguably more than any other artists. You can argue, as I have, that the entire current genre of 10k pfp collections are directly inspired by CryptoPunks. Another LarvaLabs project, Autoglyphs, is unquestionably the inspiration for a whole other genre of on-chain generative art now most commonly associated with Artblocks. What Matt & John are not is consistent with their statements. For example between 2017 and 2022 they made a number of conflicting and contradictory statements about what rights CryptoPunk owners had to their individual CryptoPunks, eventually resulting in some high profile community members walking away. In the 2018 video I mentioned previously, during the Q&A session at the end someone in the audience informs Matt that his claim that CryptoPunks were the first NFT on Ethereum is inaccurate as CurioCards launched several months earlier. Matt responds saying “Argh! We didn’t know so we just said it and figured if we were wrong someone would tell us, guess I have to change the slides now – so we were the second NFT.” Thanks to blockchain historians we now know that there were at least 8 NFT projects launched on Ethereum prior to CryptoPunks, but LarvaLabs never actually changed those slides, and continued making the claim that they were the first for several years. In fact the claim is still live on the welcome page of the CryptoPunks Discord server today.
My point here is that just because an artist says something about their work doesn’t necessarily make that true, nor does that always match what they said about their work before or what they might say about it later. I don’t think anyone would say “Well LarvaLabs intended CryptoPunks to be the first NFT on Ethereum, and they are the artist and intentions matter most, so they are the first even though others did it before them.” We are still bound by the laws of time and intentions don’t supersede that. It is unquestionably clear that statements by LarvaLabs about the V1 CryptoPunks in 2022 do not align with their own statements in 2017. To be perfectly honest, their statements in 2022 don’t even match their other statements in 2022. Early in the year they were found to be selling V1 CryptoPunks from their personal accounts while concurrently stating that they were “not official” from their brand account, and then filed a DMCA against the NFTs they’d just sold penalizing the people they sold them to. They apologized for this and recognized that selling something privately while also disavowing it publicly was problematic to say the least. There are two ways to read this, either they were intentionally committing fraud or they were just artists embarrassed about early work and misstepped while using “artistic license” to massage history a little bit. I tend to believe the later. And that’s fine, an artist can not decide they don’t like early work and that they don’t want to draw attention to it, but they can’t say early work that has already been sold to the public is no longer their work because they decide they don’t like it. Imagine if Damien Hirst said he no longer liked his Spots paintings and didn’t consider them to be official anymore? Would they suddenly no longer be Hirst paintings? No, they would simply be Hirst paintings that he doesn’t like.
7. “Hemba stole 1000 CryptoPunks” or “So many V1s were stolen that LarvaLabs had to start over to rescue them” At this point we are venturing into lore and what is firmly classifiable as “scene drama” but let me try to cut through some of that with facts rather than emotional reactions. LarvaLabs themselves have stated that they don’t consider anything that happened with “the bug” to be theft, the contract worked exactly as they wrote it to work. No one hacked it or found a backdoor, it was not exploited or anything like that, it’s just that what the contract was written to do and what they had hoped it would do were different things. Hemba was the largest single claimer of CryptoPunks, legitimately claiming over 1000 CryptoPunks the same way the every other claimer did between June 9th and June 17th. He was also one of several people who discovered “the bug” on June 17th and used the contract function to “buy” a number of CryptoPunks and then withdraw the ETH they’d just used to buy them. There were approximately 89 transactions where this happened and Hemba was responsible for 63 of them, so he has quite the reputation. However these transactions were reverted with the release of the V2 contract, and since then Hemba has made attempts to return the V1 CryptoPunks that he received without paying for them to the people who were selling them. To date he’s returned 40-something CryptoPunks and continues to actively try to contact people to return the rest.
8. “V1s are just a Hemba grift taking advantage of suckers” or “V1 Punks are just Phunks who…” You may be starting to see a theme here, I don’t think that’s accidental. Controversial characters attract attention, and that leads to gossip but again let’s try to separate that from the facts. Hemba did not make nor commission the wrapper currently being used to trade V1s, it was made in early 2022 by a developer called FrankNFT. Nor is it the first wrapper for V1 CryptoPunks, as there was an earlier wrapper in use in 2021 made by 0xfoobar. Importantly, Hemba has not been selling pieces from his V1 CryptoPunk collection, even when the floor briefly reached 20 eth in early 2022. The majority of V1 holders are either original CryptoPunk claimers, collectors of historical NFTs or fans of CryptoPunks. People who are passionate about a subject often talk about it (as I do here) and this has wrongly been painted as shilling by detractors and sadly that narrative persists. Another related narrative is that somehow the team behind CryptoPhunks or Not Larva Labs is also leading the V1 CryptoPunk community – this is easily debunked but for some reason persists. This assumption likely comes from the fact that V1 CryptoPunks are available to trade on the Phunks’ marketplace Not Larva Labs. This was not a collaboration rather it was a dig by NLL at LarvaLabs that simply took advantage of the blockchain functionality – anyone can make a marketplace and chose to sell any NFTs they want. Some of the people involved with NLL were also behind “ApeMarket” (now part of the Yuga trademark lawsuit) but the fact that BAYC NFTs were planned to be for sale on ApeMarket doesn’t mean BAYC/Yuga was a collaborator. Correlation does not imply causation, it’s just how decentralization works.
10. “V1s aren’t real!” This is easily the most subjective argument on the list, as it ultimately depends on what any individual defines as “real” for themselves. Even LarvaLabs in the height of their criticism and backpedaling stopped short of that claim, instead stating that they were not “official.” I think that the classification of V1 as the original and V2 as the official makes a lot of sense. I also think it’s important to recognize that “official” is a title bestowed by someone else, in theory Yuga Labs could make a wrapper for V2s so that they function natively in ERC-721 ecosystems and then declare that the wrapped version is now the official collection. Not that they would, but the point there is no decisions by companies or investors can change the “original” status, but “official” is a bit more flexible.
So what is “real”? For me, the V1 “CryptoPunks” contract was written by LarvaLabs, published to the Ethereum Blockchain, the tokens were distributed to the public, and they spoke to the press about it. That’s about as real as it possibly gets. One might even argue that’s more “real” than an NFT minted on a platform’s shared smart contract, or something like XCOPY’s Grifters which were minted through Async for example. As a collector who understands the importance of provenance, I always prefer that an artist mints their work from their own wallet (or one they control). In the art world there are two relevant examples that come to mind: The Warhol Foundation and Banksy’s Pest Control. Both organizations are tasked with validating works by the artists. Warhol and Banksy are both incredibly prolific and have a lot of fraudulent copies floating around so having an authoritative body which can say “yes this is real, no that is fake” is really helpful. With Warhol, there is work that was made in The Factory with Warhol’s screens by Warhol’s assistants and The Warhol Foundation needs to definitively say “yes that piece is technically identical to this other piece but it’s not ‘real’.” This gets tricky because in some cases Warhol had his assistants do the work for pieces that are considered “real.” Similarly Pest Control has made it clear that Banksy will not validate any of his street work that has been removed from the street. So Banksy could put a piece up, everyone knows it’s a Banksy, but then someone cuts that part of the wall out and tries to sell it and the official line from Pest Control is that it’s no longer a real Banksy. How will that policy hold up in 100 years? I think it’s hard to believe that will be honored in the long term. If we found a painting by van Gogh in an attic with a note from him saying “this sucks, I never should have painted it, I don’t consider it my work” would the art world collectively say “throw this crap in the trash!” or would they celebrate a “lost” van Gogh that had just been discovered, regardless of what the artist personally thought about it?
Those are extreme cases to illustrate some pretty fantastic grey area, however I think the beauty of the blockchain is that these issues are negated. If Warhol minted all his work there would be no question of something was his or not. If Banksy minted all his work similarly all questions of authenticity would disappear. Luckily with LarvaLabs they did mint their work, and the blockchain evidence is there to document it.
Conclusion and my prediction… At the risk of sounding dismissive I think the argument over what is “THE CRYPTOPUNKS” kind of loses the plot. This is history and culture and all of these things play into the big picture, regardless of what value any individual places on any single element. V1, V2, Larva, Yuga – these are all fascinating chapters in a much more interesting and larger story. I’ve stated publicly long before I ever owned V1 or V2 CryptoPunks that I think these are incredibly important cultural artifacts which have had immense impact on both how we think of digital identity and the concept of collectable art online. I now own both, and I imagine an increasing number of collectors will begin to seek out “pairs” as I have. Having the original and the official feels like a complete set. There’s something like 120-ish wallets right now with the V1 & V2 of the same CryptoPunk and I suspect that number is only going to keep growing. And what about Yuga? In a recent interview on the subject a Yuga representative stated that they have “no current plans” for V1s, but they also own over 1000 of them. They know there’s a vibrant and active V1 community, which has a quietly growing overlap to the V2 community. If nothing else I believe Yuga is interested in building community, not fighting against it the way Larva did and that interest will inform their future steps. My prediction is that this is something they will eventually capitalize on, possibly by creating their own wrapper for V1s and treating them like the Mutants to the BAYC, or maybe they will make their own wrapper for V2s to address the marketplace issues. I think most people still don’t understand what V1s even are, and as more people learn the history and context I can’t see how their popularity won’t continue to grow.
The only one thing I’m 100% sure of however is that no matter what I say about any of this, someone will criticize me for it. Oh well. I hope this you found this article to be helpful and I made this handy chart to help you navigate your own explorations of the NFT space:
After talking about it and thinking about it for months, weekend our family sat down and finished up a 3,333 piece generative NFT project, with my son doing the lion’s share of the art. He’s 12 now and has spent massive chunks of his life building amazing structures in Minecraft and we all really enjoy pixel art so it was natural for him to take the visual lead. Of course Tara and I contributed some art as well. While we love PFPs, we also wanted to do something a little different and based this project on bookshelves and the stories and inspiration they can hold. There’s a lot of fun stuff hidden in this collection as well as some 1/1s that we can’t wait to see who finds.
View the collection directly on OpenSea or check the verified contract on Etherscan or follow the project twitter account for news & updates. We used Bueno (a tool built by the Robotos team) to do the generative build and smart contract work and it was super smooth. We’re so excited to roll this out and see what stories this leads to next!
The TL;DR that you need to know before I get into this is that CryptoPunks is a “digital collectable experiment” from 2017 which predates but is also credited with kicking off the whole NFT craze, in fact helping define the standard. I wrote about the different versions of them earlier this year. One could argue, and I do, that most of the biggest and most popular NFTs are derivatives in one way or another of CryptoPunks. Randomly generated from a collection of traits, there are 10K individual CryptoPunks which people often use as avatars. Separately, CryptoPhunks is a 2021 derivative project which literally copied the entire CryptoPunks collection and flipped it horizontally (in either a cash grab or protest, depending on who you talk to and at what point in the story you are referring to – I plan to write more about this in the future), creating a mirror image and kicking off a huge debate about appropriation, fair use and IP rights in this wild west of digital art.
The CryptoPunks collection is incredibly influential, having spawned hundreds/thousands of derivative projects as well as millions of nasty replies from haters on Twitter with accusations of being a “crypto bro” for anyone who dares use one as their avatar. They get referenced all the time in clickbait articles proclaiming shock and awe about how much one of them sold for recently. Point being, people know about them. As a connoisseur of culture with impeccable taste I’ve really enjoyed seeing the creativity they inspire and I’ve collected some of my favorite derivative works in this little virtual gallery if you want to look around. I’ll be expanding that in the near future but it’s still pretty interesting at the moment if you want to follow the thread of inspiration a bit.
Recently I discovered an artist called PIV who has been doing studies of CryptoPunks in relation to fine art, namely Abstract Modernism and work in that orbit. I picked up a piece called “Pablo Picasso” which references the famous 1953 photo of Picasso by André Villers.
For the less visual and more musically inclined this is like Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” or Guns N Roses covering Wings “Live And Let Die” or Redman referencing Cypress Hill with “Sawed Off Shotgun, Hand On The Pump.” It’s one artist giving a nod to another artist. If you know the reference it’s an immediate reward, if you don’t and you are curious it’s an invitation to discover work you might have missed. I love this kind of thing so fucking hard. So in this “Punkism” series PIV is very intentional with their work, limiting their palette to colors and pieces of CryptoPunks.
Putting CryptoPunks in this context of Pop Art is kind of brilliant especially when you consider the influence that Pop Art has on contemporary culture it’s hard to argue that CryptoPunks don’t have that same influence on digital art and culture right now. So it’s a fitting comparison. Obvious as it may be, you can’t talk about Pop Art without acknowledging Andy Warhol and indeed PIV did that directly but also almost in passing with an earlier work entitled “Six Marilyns.” This piece inspired a larger collaboration with Tom Lehman (former CEO of Genius.com which itself was previously Rap Genius and focused on annotating song lyrics to help people understand the references artists were making – just to bring that around even further). The pair teamed up to create a collection of “Marilyn Diptychs” which, using code most often used to create generative art like the CryptoPunks themselves, they made endless variations on a single CryptoPunk which itself looks a lot like Warhol’s Marilyn drawing a direct reference to Warhol’s diptych.
Let’s talk about Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych for a second – did you know this was not initially intended to be a diptych? Art collectors Burton and Emily Tremaine were visiting and saw the two pieces displayed next to each other and suggested that they should be paired, which immediately seemed like the obvious choice. But Warhol’s Marilyn image itself is worth spending some time with. I really like Tina Rivers Ryan’s description of the work, she writes:
“Warhol’s use of the silkscreen technique further “flattens” the star’s face. By screening broad planes of unmodulated color, the artist removes the gradual shading that creates a sense of three-dimensional volume, and suspends the actress in an abstract void. Through these choices, Warhol transforms the literal flatness of the paper-thin publicity photo into an emotional “flatness,” and the actress into a kind of automaton. In this way, the painting suggests that “Marilyn Monroe,” a manufactured star with a made-up name, is merely a one-dimensional (sex) symbol—perhaps not the most appropriate object of our almost religious devotion.”
Like most of Warhol’s portraits he didn’t ask permission which occasionally caused legal issues, but also directly relates to the issues of appropriation and fair use that surround the CryptoPunks and many of their derivative works, and in fact one might say much of the entire NFT market. Warhol’s intentional repetition of his images, which would degrade over time as screens were used slightly changing each one, were meant to both desensitize people to the image, but also reclassify the icons already present in his audience’s cultural awareness. In many ways, a 10k avatar collection does much of the same things, though I’d argue that wasn’t the initial intent.
Coming back to these new Marilyn Diptychs and to play with the tech even further, if you own one of the diptych NFTs you can extract any of the individual Marilyns from the piece into its own profile picture/avatar which is now not only a derivative of Warhol but of the CryptoPunks as well. Again, I love this.
But as I said before, this is conscious. It’s intentional. It’s humans seeing one thing and taking something else and bending it to look similar to the other thing. Which is the art of it all, but it also got me thinking about the generative aspect more.
As many of you know last year I collaborated with my longtime friend, artist Shepard Fairey, on a generative NFT project called DEGENERATE/REGENERATE where we used scans and elements and details from his previous work as well as some of his better known iconography and using this kind of generative tech came up with 7400 individual pieces that are randomly generated but true to his aesthetic. They looked great, which we expected, but what we didn’t expect was that they would combine some of his work in ways he hadn’t previously considered sparking new inspiration which he’s taking back to his physical work. So you have this cycle of inspiration – human inspiring the computer, the computer then inspiring the human. The ever evolving body of work now has DNA from both going forward. It’s pretty exciting and I expect you’ll hear more directly from him about that in the future. But I’m getting off the point, which is about the ghost in the machine, so to speak.
PIV’s work is intentional. They consciously decided to make art that references other art. But CryptoPunks are not intentionally referencing other art. They are just a collection of individual traits – hair color, style, eyes, mouth, glasses, etc thrown into a generator which was told to spit out a 100×100 grid with 10,000 individual combinations (This is a little known fun fact, unlike most avatar NFT collections today which generate 10,000 individual images, CryptoPunks is just one single image with a grid of the individual punks). It was an art experiment – no one knew how it would work out or where it would lead.
This got me curious, without the human hand and intention – could I find a similar but unintentional reference? I narrowed down the traits to sort through and began hunting, eventually landing on CryptoPunk #3725 which is, to my eye, damn close to Warhol’s Marilyn. The only real discrepancy being the green eye shadow. Blue would have been better and there is a blue eye shadow trait but it doesn’t appear with the rest of these traits – the mole, the blond hair, pale skin, etc anywhere in the original 10k CryptoPunks collection. But there was something about it that still wasn’t right. It was facing the wrong way. I immediately thought of CryptoPhunk #3725.
It’s perfect right?
I get so excited thinking about the randomness that led to its creation. A script blindly and emotionlessly assembles a hodgepodge of traits – essentially a realization of the infinite monkey theorem – and makes an almost perfect match. Years later a reactionary protest act puts on the finishing touch. Neither of these two actions intend on this result, but we end up here nonetheless.
I knew it was a crazy long shot but I reached out to the owner of Phunk 3725 and made an offer. To my surprise and delight, they accepted and I am now the owner of Phunk 3725. This piece draws a direct, yet accidental, connection between these two eras of art. It’s incredibly important, and I’m psyched to be its caretaker.
Since it’s been a topic I’ve been yapping about recently a few people asked me for a quick explainer on all the Cryptopunks V1/V2 stuff so the other night I did just that in a Twitter thread but I thought I’d turn it into a blog post as well for easier future reference.
If you’ve spent 4 seconds in the NFT space or 4 seconds near the NFT space or just know some people have some crypto art or something you’ve seen Cryptopunks so I’m going to assume you know what I’m talking about when I say “punk” in this context. There’s no questioning the influence and significance of cryptopunks, there are a bazillion derivatives and they have made headlines for selling for bazillions of dollars. Hours ago in fact Punk #5822 sold for 8000Ξ which today converts to just shy of $23 Million USD. So yeah, they are pretty famous, and it’s important to understand that fame happened almost exclusively in 2021. Cryptopunks were actually released in 2017 and for most of that time very few people cared about them. Towards the end of 2020 people really started going after them and in 2021 they went nuts. But the cryptopunks everyone thinks of are actually the second version (V2).
Going back to 2017, a company called Larva Labs put Cryptopunks online as free to claim and promised the ability to trade/buy/sell them after they were all claimed. It took a few days/weeks for that to happen and once they were all claimed people started trying to trade them. But there was a problem. A bug in the code meant that if you tried to sell a punk the buyer got the punk AND the eth from the sale, leaving the seller with nothing. This is obviously a problem and as soon as it was found Larva Labs said “wait! Don’t trade them yet” and started working on a fix. Because things on the blockchain are immutable they couldn’t really “fix” the punk that were already out in the world, so they made new ones. They airdropped the new (V2) punks to everyone who had claimed the original (V1) punks and figured that was that. Potentially important detail: Larva Labs didn’t send the new punks to the the current punk holders – they sent them to the claimers. So if you claimed a V1 punk and gave it to a friend, you got the V2 punk, they didn’t.
Because the V1 punks were not really sellable everyone kind of forgot about them, and all focus was put on the V2 ones that people could easily trade. It’s worth noting that punks predate the ERC-721 NFT standard we know and love today. Cryptopunks are in fact ERC-20 tokens. In order for Cryptopunks (or any other pre-ERC-721 NFT like Mooncat Rescue) tokens to be traded on NFT marketplaces like OpenSea they need to be wrapped inside of an ERC-721 token. Wrapping is confusing but also really straight forward. It’s just putting one token inside of another. You’ve probably seen WETH which is just Wrapped ETH. Here are a bunch of V2 Cryptopunks that have been wrapped for example, and here’s LarvaLabs recognizing them. That’s apparently an important detail as some have suggested that wrapping changes or somehow negates the NFT that is being wrapped, which obviously isn’t the case. The socks your mother bought you for your birthday don’t cease to be socks when she wraps them in wrapping paper – same idea here. Anyway, for years people were happily buying and selling V2 cryptopunks both wrapped and unwrapped. But they just called them “Cryptopunks” and not “V2 Cryptopunks” because they were the only ones being traded so it was obvious what you meant. But in 2021 some people started working on a wrapper for the V1 Cryptopunks so they could be traded as well. This is where things get interesting. If you look at the incredible timeline Leonidas has assembled you’ll note that Cryptopunks is the very first 10k Avatar project on the Ethereum blockchain.
Despite claims made by lots of people, notably Larva Labs themselves, Cryptopunks are not the first NFT, but they are the first 10k avatar project. But now suddenly you have 2 Cryptopunk collections in motion. Both made by the same company, both pointing to the same art. Released within weeks of each other. Fun fact, the V1 contract calls them “cryptopunks” but the “fixed” V2 contract calls them “cryptopunksmarket” – anyway, with V1s being safely wrapped inside an ERC-721 wrapper they can now be traded, and people started trading them. Anyone who has spent any time around collectors knows that an error or a misprint or a fuckup is always super desirable – and that’s how people started to think of the V1s. They are this mostly forgotten mistake, which is appealing to some people.
And especially if you have cryptopunks because they are historically important as a lot of people claim to, then this original version of the cryptopunks released a few weeks earlier is SUPER INTERESTING! (all caps for emphasis). This is where things which are seemingly clear get really messy quickly. LarvaLabs has an unclear relationship with the IP of the Cryptopunks. I wrote a bit about this last year in relation to their reactions to some derivative projects.
From their end, LarvaLabs didn’t have a license in place before they distributed them and have taken different and conflicting positions on the matter over the years, so there’s just nothing clear to fall back on which is why it’s such a grey area. 19/ Anyway, jumping back to now – V1 and V2 Cryptopunks are now on the market. Anyone with a V1 cryptopunk who couldn’t trade it before can now safely wrap it and then sell it. Guess who had a lot of V1 Cryptopunks? LarvaLabs. In what is now largely seen as a “bad move” LarvaLabs secretly wrapped a bunch of V1 cryptopunks and sold them for a couple hundred ETH. Then went on the attack saying that V1 punks were not legitimate.
As an aside, last year I wrote about how Blockchains have the potential to become social archives, and the documented provenance for each NFT might end up telling interesting stories about the history of specific NFTs and that’s exactly what just happened here. The 39 V1 Cryptopunks that were wrapped and sold by LarvaLabs are already being referred to as the “rainforrest punks” and have become especially desirable among some collectors in what is basically the Streisand Effect for Web3.
So LarvaLabs then sent a DMCA to OpenSea as they have been known to do, and OpenSea complied by taking down the listing for the V1 punks. Now if you’ve been following along this far you know that V1 punks were made by LarvaLabs. So they kind of just DMCA’d themselves. This is akin to Nike making shoes with a white swoosh, selling them and then deciding they want the swoosh to be red and then claiming infringement against someone who bought the white swoosh Nikes trying to resell them on ebay. In other words it makes no sense. V1 punks were made and sold by LarvaLabs. They can’t decide after they are already sold that they don’t like them and then claim they aren’t real, or that the secondary market is infringement. So of course the DMCA notice was appealed.
That happened yesterday, so now LarvaLabs has 10 days to respond (or not) until we get to the next chapter in however this plays out. At the moment V1 punks are not being sold on OpenSea but are being sold on their own marketplace and on LooksRare. I don’t know if those sites received DMCAs and just ignored them or if they didn’t receive anything, doesn’t really matter though. What happens next however is going to have very serious implications no matter which way it goes. If the DMCA is upheld the secondary market for almost all NFTs is suddenly in legal question. If the DMCA is dropped LarvaLabs will have to accept that their flagship IP isn’t as locked down as they thought, and that there are now 2x as many cryptopunks out there.
Interestingly enough, V2 punk owners have been complaining about how LarvaLabs has been handling IP for quite a while now leading a number of high profile punk owners to sell theirs in protest. So in some ways V1 & V2 owners have a common foe. Though maybe foe is too strong a word. LarvaLabs did make these cool avatars which everyone loves, even if their community relations/communication has been a bit lacking since then. And a lot of V2 owners actually own V1s as well, so it’s not really 2 different audiences.
March Update: In an unexpected surprise turn of events LarvaLabs announced that they sold the IP for CryptoPunks to Yuga Labs, producers of the Bored Ape Yacht Club, who immediately announced that they would not be pursuing any of the DMCAs filed by LarvaLabs and also that they would be granting commercial rights to CryptoPunk owners. As part of the deal LarvaLabs transferred their CryptoPunks to Yuga, including some 1000 V1 punks. Almost immediately the V1 collection was reinstated on OpenSea.
But what about V3? V3 Punks is a totally unrelated project created by unrelated fans. It’s just a fun nod to the whole project distinguishing itself as different but also promoting unity and joy, which is kind of nice. Personally I’ve really enjoyed the very rich derivative world that Cryptopunks has spawned and I think the project is incredibly significant. I’ve bought pieces from a lot of the so called “shitpunk” derivative projects over the last year. I also really nerd out about the IP stuff which is obvious from last years article. I bought some V3s because I think it’s fun and I recently traded an NFT I received for free for a V1 because I think it’s a cool piece of history. I have no idea where this will go, or how that will impact values of anything. None of what I’m talking about should be seen as endorsements or speculation, but I find it super fascinating and look at it kind of like collector memorabilia. Anyway, that’s my quick catch up. We’ll see what happens next!
In the past decade I've lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles, and now in Vancouver. I've run hackerspaces and blog networks, an art gallery, a design firm and a record label. I'm one of the co-founders of the environmental non-profit Safecast, a Shuttleworth Fellow and have been an Associate Professor at Keio University and a Researcher at the MIT Media Lab. I take photos and make noisy ambient music under the name Delay 5000 (D5K). For most of the last 2 years I've been working around NFTs and Web3. Read more about me here. I don't use Facebook.
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