Art

Burning Art or Crypto Art History? Looking at the works of NFT Artist Skeenee

19th March 2021


 “Right now, I’m going to burn this Banksy”, says an anonymous member of the tech and art enthusiast collective in a video of one of the latest attention-seeking media stunts. When the @BurntBanksy group set fire to the iconic “Morons (White)” print by Banksy, their mission was to transfer the value of the physical work into its digital counterpart – an NFT. They probably didn’t even realize that this only prolonged Banksy’s legacy. After all, Banksy’s work is the direct critique of the absurdity the contemporary art market has reached and the true value lies in the idea itself. The anonymous team is part of Injective Protocol that purchased Banksy’s print for $95,000. Following the media stunt, the NFT sold for $382,000. And while @BurntBanksy’s Twitter profile reads that they’re “on a mission to bridge the world of physical art with NFTs”, what they did so far is simply the destruction of the former

Authentic Banksy Art Burning Ceremony (NFT), still from BurntBanksy YouTube video

As novel as it may seem, the advent of NFTs has had its wave before Beeple, and the Nyan Cat sales fetched eye-watering figures. The scale and significance of the narrative may have not qualified for traditional outlets to grab their pens every day as they do now. Still, the critique and creation have certainly laid a foundation for the events to follow.

The Guardian article covering the act of @BurntBanksy claimed that this was “thought to be the first time a unique digital asset has replaced a physical artwork.” However, somewhere in a rush to push the story, a pivotal moment of crypto art history has been excluded. Thankfully, the medium itself serves as a history book to uncover the pioneer’s project, who first transferred the existence of his physical art into the digital realm of an NFT. 

Skeenee is a Madrid-based Belgian painter and crypto artist known for his early experimentation with the artistic movement. His projects include some of the first social tokens ($SKULL), GAN adaptations of renown late painters, and even tokenizing the process of an artwork creation as an NFT. Similarly to @BurntBanksy, Skeenee used art as a medium to enter the dialogue about the value of NFTs. Except in this instance, Skeenee burned his own drawings. His series evolved in three stages. The initial phase was “NFT + ART”, where the buyers would receive physical works together with purchased NFTs. Next followed “NFT – ART”, during which the artist burned the physical work to only keep its NFT version. But finally, Skeenee pushed the idea even further by releasing “NFT +/- ART”, which allowed the buyer to decide the fate of the original. 

The emotional reaction I received from my fans was intense; I remember being called an ISIS Art burning motherfucker. To this day, this is still one of the best insults I have ever received.”
The first buyer for the burning work has been no other than the Crypto OG WhaleShark, one of the largest collectors of art and digital-gaming NFTs.

Skeenee’s projects undergo an exceptional degree of documentation, to say the least. The burning works were presented in an opening manifesto by the artist, including an accompanying series of short stories by the poet Puffin and an accompanying exhibition at the Gallery on Fire (MVB) in the Cryptovoxels virtual world. The latter enabled by his collaborator Bullauge, the creator of Metaverse Billboards advertising platform. In short, the lack of a single reference to Skeenee’s work during @BurntBanksy’s 15 minutes of fame demonstrates either poor research or purposeful evasion of crypto art history by the news. 

The media frenzy surrounding NFTs has been driving the dialogue away from innovation and community, and towards get-rich-quick schemes. In the case of Skeenee, to further the debate in a constructive manner it has come down to him calling out on the appropriators and outlets for getting their story straight. Some other artists find copying almost a compliment to their art; @SHML0MS, self-described ‘cryptodadaist’ known for playing with the concept of IP rights, even describes the act of stealing as an “aesthetic movement of its own ”. 

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