The Fourth and Final of Four Short Stories Written About the Four Different Ways Four Anonymous Collectors Came to Crypto Art
These stories were based on 18 interviews conducted in April and May 2023. While not every collector interviewed appears here, their collective insight heavily influenced the direction and creation of these essays. If you like this content and want it right in your inbox, please subscribe (for free, baby) to the Museum of Crypto Substack.
I owe enormous gratitude to all the collectors who contributed, directly and indirectly, to these stories:
Omz: Collector since 2020. First NFT: The Protector (2020) by Trevor Jones and Jose Delbo
Pindar van Arman: Artist and collector since 2018 . First NFT: Echoes of a Dead Earth (2018) by XCOPY
Artnome: Artist, Popularizer of NFTs. Collector since 2017. First NFT: Moxarra
Sarah Zucker: Artist. Collector since 2019. First NFT: Digital LSD — Synthesis_Batch_20190505 (2019) by FractalEncrypt
Cozomo de’ Medici: Collector since 2021
Sats Moon: Collector since 2020. First NFT: White Boombox (2020) by Lyle Owerko
TokenAngels: Collector since 2019. First NFT: Autoglyph #504 (2019) by LarvaLabs
TennesseeJed: Collector since 2020. First NFT: Sean Mick
Artie Handz (Punk 7635): Collector since 2020. First NFT: NBA Topshot
Coldie: Artist. Collector since 2019. First NFT: Cryptopunk 7933
Conlan Rios: Founder of Async.art. Collector since 2019. First NFT: Cryptokitties
BelleNFTs: Co-founder of NFTGirl. Collector since 2021.
Batsoupyum: Collector since 2021. First NFT: Hashmasks
Mattia Cuttini: Artist. Collector since 2018. First NFT: More the Journey than the Destination (2018) by Ilan Katin
Anne Spalter: Artist. Collector since 2020. First NFT: Chromie Squiggles (2020) by Snowfro
NFTFeen: Collector since 2021.
Samir Mitra: Collector since 2020.
(But First, An Introduction)
(I’ll be putting this same introduction before each of the four stories. Feel free to skip ahead to “A Flood” if you’ve read it already. But there’s a lot of good stuff in here, if I may be so bold. And it never hurts to read something more than once; that’s how it sticks. I mean, it’s all up to you, but…make your choice wisely. )
Here I am, staring again at this damned blank page. It seems to be mocking me, as it always does, challenging me, demeaning me, daring me to live up to its promise. And here I am, thinking again that, because I know what I want this blank page to ultimately say, maybe the process of getting it to speak won’t be so hellish. But it always is, it has to be, and it will remain hellish for every writer until the very last blank page winks out of the universe.
So in the act of telling you, dear reader, what I want this page to say, I am also telling the page itself. Maybe then it will cooperate.
In each of the 18 collector interviews I conducted for this essay series, my first question was always, “What was the first piece of crypto art you collected?” A reasonable-enough place to start, I figured. But instead of receiving straightforward answers, I was often instead invited into unique and singular memories, the sudden impetus-shifts towards collection, the lifetimes spent meandering, the unpredictable catalysts/cataclysms which reoriented all these disparate people from all their disparate origins to the same place: Crypto art, a niche community of digital art lovers/makers all sequestered together within late-stage social media. And I want upon these pages to honor all these distinct, radical histories.
My other previous essays on collectorship all boasted a clear thesis. In “Where Have All the Good Collectors Gone?” the need to interrogate our Golden-Age thinking about early crypto art was obvious from the outset. In “Online but Always In-Person,” I hoped to reveal the way personal relationships with artists compel collectors to care about and collect certain artworks. For “The Collectors Who’ll Kill Crypto Art,” I got maybe a bit overzealous in my desire to explore the massive responsibility on the part of crypto art collectors, who, I argued, are unwittingly shirking that responsibility. But this essay needed to be different.
Why? Well, first, it takes no great insight to understand that all of our lives are individual and dramatic and influenced heavily by fate, chaotic fate. Second, it’s easy to see that crypto art is a collection of weirdos with unlike backstories. At the core of this essay is only the simplest of truths: There is no one way a crypto art collector is created.
And yet, though the page now says, in theory, what I want it to say, it still lacks something. It reads how I want it to read, but the words aren’t saying anything. They lack… What do they lack…What do they lack? They lack wonder, majesty. They lack that bright and sacred sheen achieved when universality and specificity merge. They lack the spark of actual experience. And because of that, they lack meaning. There may be a multitude of stories in crypto art, and we may know that these stories indeed swirl around us, but it is one thing to know the size of a library, and it is another to comb through its contents yourself.
How then might I make the infinitesimal lives of these collectors sing? How might I evoke the moments that turned them towards crypto art without being blasé or cliché or some other sinister French adjective?
And so the blank page has forced me again into an arena where I’ve spent most of my written life, where I am most practiced, yes, but also most self-conscious, most vulnerable but I believe most triumphant.
The stories I want to tell can only be told by, well, telling them.
My idea, as I write this, is to take a small sample of the stories told to me and bring them to life in fiction as so many moments in so many histories have been brought to life for me. I want to jump into heads. I want to suggest and subsequently conceive a gleaming future on the horizon. I want to inject myself into an imagined moment and walk around a little, try to peel away that which might otherwise hide a changed sensibility, and thus understand the urge not only to collect but to collect something experimental, often incomprehensible, iconoclastic.
The four short stories which I’m about to set down on these blank pages are to be prefaced by the actual quotes from the collectors who inspired them. Presented here without attribution to their speakers, I hope they may touch something more universal: That the universe works its odd ways on us all, and when its inherent entropy meets a mind attuned to certain sensations, it can lead one down dark alleyways, across the river and through the trees to great discoveries, great interactions with those discoveries, the building of a home in a land that most deem infertile, or which many refuse to acknowledge at all. But we know better, don’t we? We know…
All right: Let’s see if I can get these pages to say what I want them to.
“My story is a little bit different. My late husband was an artist. He, my spouse, he’d do these artworks at home, but we live in a place that floods. I have a lot of his artwork that flooded, and we lost pictures, artwork, sketches, physical things, and we lost them. They are things we can’t ever recuperate. And so when I looked at what I was going to be buying as far as crypto art, it wasn’t really about what I loved and not too much analysis, it was more about this is super cool, and the things that happened to me before can’t happen with this.
“I’ve seen what can horribly go wrong when you don’t have the option of having something digitally created, where I can pull it up right here, and I can take it with me, and I don’t have to worry about storage, and I don’t have to worry about floods or any of that stuff. And if at any moment I want to turn it into an IRL thing to show in my home, then I could, or I could reach out directly to the artist, etc.”
I managed the basement door open with my foot, and quite acrobatically if I do say so myself, it’s all in my unique angle of bunion and heel, and this itself an accomplishment considering all the things in my arms and that I can’t really see over them, and also it’s a very narrow corridor across from the bathroom from which the basement door so unceremoniously emerges, where in a normal household you’d find, I don’t know, a potted ficus or HomeGoods shelving, or even just bare wall, but no, we have a door, and one I use often. Despite it all, I’ve always found this door charming. How it refuses to close all the way, which actually helps me in this scenario. I used to say “The basement door is possessed” because it rocks in place whenever it’s drafty. My husband would say, “They must’ve used too much WD40 when they were installing it. It’ll get better eventually.”
But it never has. For which I’ve remained thankful.
But focusing on the door is silly because the door isn’t half as unruly as all these things I’m carrying, in both substance and significance. They are longer than they are wide, and they’re quite wide to begin with. Some are framed, and the frames have pointy black corners that leave black scars wherever they collide against the wall. After besting the basement door, I still have to position myself down the stairs at a precise kind of acute angle if I’m going to spare the walls any further scarring. Also, I’m crying. I know any abstract care about the basement drywall is only because I’m crying and don’t want to reckon with everything in my arms until it’s all downstairs, dropped, done away with. Then I can cry, commit to it, think more honestly about why I’m crying, and move on.
Though I also don’t want to scar the house any more than it already has been. This house, I do love it. The basement door. I’ve raised two beautiful children here. I settled down with a beautiful husband here. It was one of those things where you saw the house from the street but your soul already halfway settled inside, and I stepped over the threshold and then there was the dishwasher, the wainscoting, the window above the sink looking into the yard, the unceremonious basement door, all of it, I was sold. I painted these scarred walls once, with my husband’s help. Seafoam, at my urging, which was quite vogue at the time. We had mishaps. We had fun. The walls have since faded into a mottled olive, and are mostly hidden anyways behind hangings: the license plates we collected on our travels (Texas, the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana), pictures of my beautiful family of course, and also the things that their continuing live lead them to make, the paper-maché masks and Pollack-splattered canvases and construction-paper projects they come home with from art class, the team photos, the air plants my daughter fawns over, and yes, some of it — less now than before — with my husband’s art.
It’s my husband’s art which I’m currently carrying to the basement. It is what scars the walls. My husband’s art and I, we take each steep stair with extreme caution because nobody else is home, and if I, say, were to trip, fall, careen, conk out against concrete, and bleed, there would be nobody to phone for help, only a corpse to find, and these kids, these kids, these beautiful things can’t have another corpse.
The thing is, this is not something I want to do, taking my husband’s beautiful artwork down here, especially knowing what’s going to happen to it. But I can’t make this house, beautiful as it is, any bigger. I can’t create more space on the walls. Believe me, I’ve tried every arrangement of frames. But space is finite upstairs, and every day that these beautiful children and I continue to live, that life requires more space, it demands a more prominent place on the walls, this continuing record of life being lived. And my husband, my sweet deceased artist husband, he made so much god damned art, these walls once positively sagged under the weight of it. But it cannot continue to throttle the lifefull part of our house, it only ever becomes further out of place there. Not all of it, of course — there are things which remain vivacious and contain his presence, even now even this long after he passed — and none of us, least of all me, want to excommunicate him from this house he once so filled, but the bulk of his artwork, it must be hidden away. Because imagine it’s death greeting you at the front door. Death upon exiting the shower. Death while scrambling eggs the way my son likes them, with ketchup and bacon bits. My own room is already kind of a shrine to the man, it is where so much of my husband’s art lives, but it’s different up there: I demand to see it, him, all of it, all of him, as much as possible, I can handle the death, I want the traces he left to invade every microscopic void between my molecules. I’ve chosen that. But my children must make that choice for themselves.
But they are yet too young to do so. And I will not be responsible for aging them any further.
I of course know what will happen to all this art down in the basement, though I never acknowledge its fate aloud. My children, my beautiful children, I pray they don’t yet know, or they don’t suspect that I know, and that if they suspected I knew then they would say something, they would make the choice loudly and unmistakably, saying something to me like, “No mother, we ourselves choose to intermingle all remaining specks of the life he once had with all this bursting life we yet maintain,” but until they say so, until they manifest that intermingling on their own terms…
And so I bring it all downstairs to be destroyed in the floods.
It floods here constantly. Anything more than a strong sunshower, and the waters march in through my beautiful house’s cracked foundations, consuming the basement’s contents. And I have tried the stopgap measures. I purchased waterproof plastic containers. I scoured the innards of every Home Depot in driving distance. I followed the advice of every online forum. But then we don’t account for wear and tear. We don’t account for hungry mice that chew through plastic. We do not account for human error, my own or those of my children, us forgetful and easily-distracted creatures who hit things with our hips, who do not check seals, who do not replace assiduously or consider every variable. I have fallen to my knees and shed tears in this basement. I have beat fists against the floor and wondered what my mistake was, when exactly I was so hurried I could not secure a latch. I can do so 99 times out of 100, but one slip-up, one intervention of fate, and it’s all lost. I know how this works, it has been flooding here forever.
Yes, I’ve had the inspectors in. Yes, I’ve consulted experts both in-person and online, sent them photographs. Just a feature of the house, I’m told, of the local geography, of the climate. My house is a black swan event. I’ve hired contractors to make fixes, but water is merciless, you can’t reason with it, and it feasts on faulty craftsmanship. I can’t afford to endlessly repair this endlessly flooding house.
My husband, by the way, mostly painted birds. He painted them because he loved them. Ours is a tree-filled country. And my husband captured our many local birds marvelously, their feathers, the light refracting off their beaks mid-song, their terrifying inhuman eyes. He did some landscape watercolors too, and those generally remain upstairs in the living world, but the birds are too much. It’s their eyes I can’t stand, the death in those eyes, or if not the death, then the inhumanity. Bald eagles, a cooper’s hawk, a small army of tufted titmouses like those which gather on the dogwood by the front walkway, a golden finch, all with the same lurid, empty eyes. Painted by my husband not at scale but magnified tenfold. Trapped not in a cage but on an expensive kind of paper with a special name which I can’t remember even though I can hear my husband’s voice inflecting it. But paper all degrades the same no matter its price or title.
Like everything else in our universe, paper only appears to be solid. It is actually composed of many interwoven, interlocking, crisscrossing cellulose fibers. Introduce water, and the infinitesimally-small H20 molecules rush into the microscopic space between these fibers, which soon shuffle apart from each other so as to form stronger, more attractive hydrogen bonds with the water molecules; the water and the paper begin melding into a single entity. The water continues its invasion, the spaces expand, more water enters, the fibers are forced further and further apart, and they swell, they burst, the paper breaks down entirely, the water bonding to all the random additive molecules in the paper’s composition and stealing them for itself. Water nullifies, and water consumes; it changes the things within it also into water. So you take all this art, you cover it in sometimes as much as four-feet of water, and poof, it disappears. The paper, everything on it, every painstaking feather that got the light just right. Now one with the water, inextricable, unidentifiable.
I have long since surrendered against the water. It is smarter than me and more ruthless. It is also better funded.
I pray for some third option to present itself. Some place where my husband’s beautiful artwork can be protected forevermore, preserved for the maturated choices of my children and their children’s children, but which will not stare at them everyday, calling to them hypnotically from beyond the grave.
Art, damn it, is both a legacy and a burden. Forsaken bits of ourselves we leave behind for those who remember us to shepherd. And it is a burden. And it is a selfish endeavor. Or maybe not selfish exactly but delusional, yes delusional, though I also know that it is also the most selfless and clear-headed of things. Art is all these things, and it is my husband’s many-faced art that I am laying down in what will soon be its watery grave, I am marching back upstairs, I am drying my tears with a dishrag and fleeing to my room, where my husband’s remaining birds can torment me for what I’ve done to their kin.
Life will go on, and I will do what I’ve always done. I will blunt the knowledge of my actions with more newer louder life on our upstairs walls. My daughter in a softball uniform where once hung a cloud of acrylic swallows mid-murmuration. A crayon-drawn posterboard map of Holden Caulfield’s New York to cover the darkened former home of a charcoal cardinal on a dogwood branch. And it will work. I will forget. Life will flood in through the window above the sink and misdirect me. And I will return to my room each night and I will close the door and I will remember. And I will say a prayer for my husband, two more for my children, and a final prayer for the future. In my prayers, the future is boastful, bold. It says:
“Wait, the ways of the past are not my ways. I offer you a new path: preservation with discretion. Out of sight, but still so stubbornly existing.”
I pray also that I will recognize this future path the moment it appears. I will claw my way down it. I will rise from a crawl to a dead sprint. I will seem a maniac to all who see me from a distance, but one day they will understand, and they will choose too. They will run blindly alongside me. It will seem an obvious choice, in due time.