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CryptoPunk 6926

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted: June 23, 2017

Artist Description: One of 6039 Male punks.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

[for context, this essay was written before Yuga Labs’ acquisition of the Cryptopunk brand]

Cryptopunk 6926. Not nearly as much an art piece as a piece of history. Very famously the first NFT project to be minted on Ethereum, Cryptopunks as a concept are foundational within the larger NFT ecosystem. There are 10000 altogether, but owning one will run one hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, most likely. Although it was a stunt, the “sale” of a Cryptopunk was the largest ever art sale, amounting to the momentary transfer and then return of nearly half-a-billion dollars. They are collectors’ items on a scale never seen before. They are status symbols of truly uncommon worth. But they’re also markers of a time and place, one long before NFTs were a mainstream concept. As such, they ascribe huge cultural capital upon their owners, either showcasing that the individual is willing to use large amounts of cash to buy into the NFT ecosystem, or as a definitive display of one’s being involved in the space at its earliest possible inception. Cryptopunk 6926 is not notable for its attributes, but for its very being. A Cryptopunk is more than how it looks; its traits amount, in most cases, to window-dressing.

Though this one is aesthetic. As per the Cryptopunk’s statistics page provided by creator Larva Labs, 6926 is one of 6039 male punks, one of ~10% with a cigarette, one of ~2.5% with a hoodie, ~3% with mutton-chops, and almost 5% with an eyepatch. It’s an entirely unique piece as well; to my knowledge, no two Cryptopunks share characteristics, so in a way, all are one-of-one. What is a Cryptopunk? A pixelated head facing the right side of the screen, set, in this case, against a dark blue background. That’s all it is. It’s all it needs to be.

Cryptopunks preceded competition. They had no need to beat out competitors in a marketplace, not having a serious challenger to their economic crown for years. As is well known, Cryptopunks would go on to spawn a thousand imitations, this being the precursor to the current dominant cultural NFT movement, the Profile Picture or “PFP” craze. Herein, NFT owners replace their social media profile pictures with the faces of NFTs they own, these NFTs usually being a person or animal’s bust, and then use the rarity of that NFT to give themselves clout within the larger online community. There are literally thousands of PFP projects now, many copying the Cryptopunk pixelated style, and many others revolving around the concept of anthropomorphization: you’ll find monkeys, apes, squid, fish, horses, toads, almost every animal under the sun has been made mascot of this or that PFP project. 

And it’s really the influence of Cryptopunks that established this trend. First-mover advantage has proven hugely important in the Cryptocurrency universe, this being the underlying reason why Bitcoin and Ethereum, despite being less impressive technologically than some of their more recent innovative counterparts, maintain the cultural and economic capital they do. Ditto Cryptopunks. By virtue of being the “first” NFTs to be minted on Ethereum, they’ve essentially built a fortress of value around themselves, one which should theoretically remain standing even if the PFP craze falters suddenly, leaving other high-end PFP projects with significantly diminished value. Cryptopunks will always engender conversation about how one came into an individual or institution’s possession, and will always communicate its owner’s seriousness about NFTs. 

In a way, this trend has more in common with renaissance sculpting than with any modern or contemporary art movement. Think of walking into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, or the Louvre in France, or any number of historical art museums, ones where huge atriums are littered with renaissance-era sculptures: marble-cut heroes and Gods, splayed out or engaged in battle or standing triumphantly upon a pedestal. It’s hard for all but the most highly-trained eyes to spot differences of skill in most of these pieces. They’re more important for what they represent collectively than what they are individually. And what they represent collectively was an era when ownership of such statues granted immense cultural clout upon the rich houses which commissioned and bankrolled their creation. They are not meant to display specific artistic sensibilities, as this uniqueness really only became prominent with the advent of the French Impressionists in the late 1800s. Previously, identical technique was exalted above individual style. There was a definitive importance placed on the artist responsible for the work, but the value of that artist was determined by how closely they could maintain certain classical guidelines. Conformity was important, because it communicated the skill of the artist, which communicated the prestige of whoever commissioned them. 

And so, Cryptopunks have taken the same pathway towards importance. Their individual construction, their inherent artistry in other words, is less important than the mere fact of their existence, which is automatic induction into the prestigious club of their ownership. So when we see a Cryptopunk, like 6926 before us, we can pretend that it’s important to talk about the artistic aspects, the rarity of the traits, the undeniable appeal that pixelated art works have to a wide audience, but the truth is that nothing outside of it being a Cryptopunk matters. Maybe to a serious art historian one day, but to the 99.9% of us, the value is in seeing the Punk and wondering about its owner. It’s less about the thing than who owns it and why and when they did.

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