The former second largest crypto currency exchange FTX went bankrupt, and its brilliant CEO resigned. At the same time, FTX users lost millions of dollars. Dozens of people who make crypto culture bobbed their heads and waved their hands in time to a show of vibrating squiggles in an old cattle feed mill in the West Texas desert.
Chromie Squiggles was Art Blocks’ second generative NFT art project, and it was a huge hit. Squiggles danced for the first time to the loud music of English DJ Jamie xx, which made the people in the barn happy and surprised.
On November 11, 2022, Art Blocks held its second annual Open House in Marfa, Texas. This event brought together 500 collectors, artists, investors, and people who just wanted to chat.
The crypto market could affect an event about non-fungible tokens, which in the past two years has attracted both passionate fans and angry haters. The FTX Armageddon seemed just as far away from the gathering as a big city event from the time when people traveled in covered wagons.
NFT people don’t think they’re immune to changes in the market. Erick Calderon (aka Snowfro), the founder of Art Blocks and a Squiggles artist, said it was because the event and his NFT company don’t have much to do with NFTs or crypto.
Calderon told me that he wanted Art Blocks to go beyond crypto, generative, and NFT. “But we also want to transcend crypto.”
Calderon believes too many crypto firms base their value propositions on technology novelty. “Jogging—but earning crypto! Sweatshirts—but in the metaverse! Cat pictures—but make them NFTs! A mediocre TV show concept—produced by a DAO!”
He thinks that this obsession just hides the flaws in a company’s product.
“Why are we betting our companies on nascent technology? Companies don’t survive just on crypto,” Calderon noted. “They survive on culture, and they survive on their teams. We’re trying to be an adult company. That means creating internal organizational culture, which is hard to do in crypto, where everybody’s remote and hinging on the price of a CryptoPunk. But we fought so hard to isolate ourselves from that.”
Even though the crypto market is bad, Art Blocks is hiring 40 more people. It now has a full team of curators who carefully choose and let digital artists show their collections for the first time on its very popular platform.
Calderon says that Art Blocks has been around for so long because it didn’t follow the usual practices of the NFT industry during the speculation bubble in early 2022.
He thought that when Art Blocks went crazy October was the worst time for his mental health. At the time, Art Blocks NFTs cost a lot of money. People said, “People were like ‘you need a token, reward your collectors, you don’t care about your collectors unless you do a token, look what SuperRare is doing, look what Bored Ape Yacht Club is doing.'”
Art Blocks never gave tokens, special bonuses, or any other vague nod to Web3’s often fetishized but rarely realized the idea of “utility.”
It offered art and places for public art. It turned down every other offer.
The three-day Marfa conference put on by Art Blocks showed that it is an art institution and not a crypto or NFT company.
Marfa was founded in the 1880s, but it didn’t become known around the world until the early 1970s when Donald Judd bought a few of the town’s buildings and turned them into “anti-museums” for his and other artists’ large concrete and metal installations. Marfa’s reputation as a place for artists and its remoteness attracted a lot of disappointed city dwellers in the decades that followed. Now, the village has barns, closed shops, art galleries, and coffee shops that serve matcha.
In 2021, Art Blocks opened in Marfa. Some people thought that Art Blocks’ crypto-tainted products were a break from Marfa’s creative history and that the company shouldn’t have moved there.
Art Blocks’ presence in Marfa was calm
Rachel Beitz, who owns Rule, a gallery across the street from Art Blocks, told me, “I think they’re a brilliant addition to Marfa, and I think they’ve integrated well to the scene,” Rachel Beitz, owner of Rule, a gallery down the street from Art Blocks, told me. “I can’t think of anybody who’s spoken badly of them.”
No one has talked badly about them.
Beitz also didn’t agree with the idea that the art form of an art collection, such as blockchain, could say anything about how good the art is.
“The entire history of art is the next big thing not being considered art to the key holders of what ‘art’ is,” she said. “Marfa is a place where a lot of people come to experiment. To me, it’s almost a natural thing that this would be one of the places people come and try this.”
Traditional art and Art Blocks are different in two ways. They are NFTs made by Ethereum that can be bought by anyone with an internet connection. They bring about. Artists write computer code that sets the parameters for an Art Blocks creation, which is then made at random when it is “minted.”
“The NFT part is not that hard to explain. But when you dive deeper into long-form generative art, that’s when it starts to get a little more complicated,” Plutonium F, a pseudonymous Art Blocks collector said.
Perspectives are the November open house collection. It was put together by Plutonium and two other Art Blocks collectors.
“I know that it’s hard for traditional collectors and traditional artists to grasp the idea that you write a piece of code, and it can create essentially an infinite number of outputs,” said Proper, another Perspectives community curator.
After a tequila-soaked weekend in Marfa, Art Blocks fans flew back to their home cities, back to reality, back to a world that was finally, breathlessly paying attention to their industry—but for all the wrong reasons: bankruptcies, contagions, criminal charges, government investigations, and waves upon waves of layoffs.
The crypto winter got cold. No break for the new year.
Art Blocks comes out of the shadows. Friendship Bracelets, an Art Blocks project by French artist Alexis André that was designed by Calderon, was only available to people who owned Squiggles at the end of October. After the free-to-mint claim window closed on Tuesday, the collection quickly became OpenSea’s most valuable collection. As of this writing, Friendship Bracelets have been sold for more than 14,300 ETH ($20,3 million).
In a tough market, that stands out. Since January, the number of NFT trades has dropped by 87%. Blue-chip profile picture (PFP) non-financial-transaction (NFT) projects are no longer safe bets.
Why doesn’t Art Blocks have any trouble? Calderon thinks it’s easy to understand.
“If [Art Blocks holders] bought a piece of art, and they hung it on their wall, and that piece of art went to zero, they still have a friggin’ awesome piece of art,” he said.
What percentage of NFT projects can say that? After speculative value, crypto marketing, and NFT acronyms, what’s left? Art Blocks is a strange NFT company. As a creative group that uses blockchain, things make more sense.
Even though the crypto market is in a bear market, non-crypto companies that use Web3 technology to reach bigger goals in entertainment, business, fashion, and art are doing well.
Art Blocks might show that Web3 doesn’t have to be the main focus of projects. This is the future of crypto culture.