From Our Collection: XCOPY’s “Cracked”

M○C△
8 min readJun 7, 2023

by Maxwell Cohen

From Our Collection is a monthly essay series featuring analysis of the pieces in the Museum of Crypto Art’s Genesis Collection. All essays were originally published on the MOCA Forum, where we invite you in to read, explore, and comment on these 240+ crypto art analyses.

Still from Cracked (2018), by XCOPY. Housed in Museum of Crypto Art Genesis Collection

Important Note: Cracked by XCOPY was an edition of 10 minted in 2018 on the platform R.A.R.E. Art Labs, which is unfortunately now defunct. Many historic pieces of crypto art — multiple XCOPY’s, Hackatao’s, etc. — were lost when R.A.R.E. Art Labs went dark. What does that mean in practice? Though Cracked is technically housed within the Museum of Crypto Art (thanks to a generous donation from ArtonymousArtifakt), the file itself is inaccessible. Thus, the piece can’t be displayed or searched in our dApp, and even verifying its information is a challenge. We encourage you to verify our ownership yourself on Etherscan: https://etherscan.io/token/0x4ac03cc252c74de4518108754c00dcfde9f874dd .

And please view the animated artwork Here or Here.

Date Minted: June 27, 2018

Artist Description: A tribute to the rat race and all those that run it and lose

Should we crawl ourselves back to the beginnings of crypto art, we would find it understandably riddled with a teenager’s missteps. Works of timeless artistry sold for relative peanuts. Shortsighted platforms neglecting to protect the minted files they were entrusted with. I don’t purport to perjure the still-nascent crypto art movement, but, like adolescents, this still loosely-organized and underdeveloped crypto art ecosystem cared little for long-term consequences, trapped as they were in present circumstances which demanded their attention.

From what I understand — and this draws on copious conversations with the artists, patrons, and builders who populated crypto art from 2017 onward — few could have predicted that the space would persevere through winter after winter and grow to the size it is today, possessing such sprawling infrastructure, spread across a shifting expanse of different metas, expressing a multitude of aesthetics and opinions. Likewise, early crypto artists weren’t fixated on making globs of cash or achieving international notoriety. In fact, there wasn’t very much money to be made at all. Artnome once told me that he purchased a Moxarra 1/1 for less than a cup of coffee. Pindar van Arman’s 2019 resale of XCOPY’s SuperRare Genesis Piece, Echoes of a Dead Earth, broke every crypto art sales record at the time. The price? 943 dollars.

Admittedly, it’s hard for me to conceptualize a crypto art not yet informed by, for example, Beeple or the Bored Apes; this an ecosystem with few illusions about its niche-within-a-niche status. But it is to this place (and headspace) we must travel. To a specific date, even: June 27th, 2018. We’ll be landing ourselves right smack amidst one of crypto’s most famous winters, within which Bitcoin’s price dropped to $6,000 a token from a high of $17,000 only a few months before, and wherein Ethereum was worth ~$400, having lost 70% of its value in the span of only a few weeks (things only get worse from there: Bitcoin would ultimately fall into the $3000’s and Ethereum to less than $100. Yikes.). It was into this context that the piece in question today, XCOPY’s Cracked, was born.

We don’t need to spend too much time biographing the artist himself. Suffice to say, many would call XCOPY the unquestioned king of crypto art, he the inventor of a style so singular and oft-imitated (some may call that style Glitch, though many maintain that proper Glitch Art, pioneered throughout the late 20th-century by female and queer and transgender artists like Jamie Faye Fenton, is of a different lineage) that it has become a visual distillation of sorts for crypto art’s ethos: digitally-native, colorful, eclectic in influence, deeply anxious.

Yet early and essential XCOPY pieces like Cracked remain, to this day, mostly unseen, unappreciated, and unknown. If you arrived into crypto art in or after 2021, you’re likely not even familiar with the platform upon which these pieces were minted, R.A.R.E. Art Labs, which went defunct in 2020. But on June 27th, 2018, that very same R.A.R.E. Art Labs became the steward of four editioned XCOPY pieces: Cracked, Dirtbag, Death Wannabe, and Disaster Suit, each priced at —get this— $10 a pop.

These pieces are classic XCOPY, capturing the darkness, the dreariness, the anxiety and monstrousness and color palette of his many works to come. Yet, few know of their existence. Hell, it’s hard to even PROVE they exist. How can that be? The answer lies in a cautionary tale for the ages:

We mustn’t impugn XCOPY for minting such important works on such a flimsy platform —Who could have foreseen the force with which crypto art would expand?— but when R.A.R.E. Art Labs went belly-up, the pieces minted on it went too. R.A.R.E. Art Labs seems not to have stored the metadata for their NFTs in some auxiliary archival system like IPFS or Filecoin, so when the platform’s servers were disabled, the metadata for these pieces became inaccessible (at least this is my understanding). The transaction hashes will lead you to the token itself on Etherscan, but the image itself? Poof. Only six of the original 10 editions of Cracked even still exist. It’s a similar story with many other artworks XCOPY minted in that period.

Still from Cracked (2018), by XCOPY. Housed in Museum of Crypto Art Genesis Collection

Which is a great shame not just because the potential royalties and resale values of these pieces would easily reach eight figures, but because of how difficult it is to see or admire these pieces what with their overall lack of indexing. And to anyone who considers themselves even a casual XCOPY scholar, these pieces — and Cracked perhaps most of all — are the Dead Sea Scrolls to understanding the artist’s prolific thereafter output.

If you were to go back and visit XCOPY’s Tumblr archive, you’d see the impressive formation, as if in real time, of the artist’s sensibilities, from color choice to freneticism to subject matter. Cracked, however, seems to act as a formal announcement that the artist’s development was nearing its final stage. While even in his Tumblr archives we can see that XCOPY had an ongoing fascination with skulls and skeletons, the abstract monsters which XCOPY is today known for — and which we can see here in Cracked — don’t start to appear until mid-2018, and this is the first in that vein to be tokenized (for more information on XCOPY’s history, I recommend this article from The Metaversalist).

In the center of Cracked’s frame, we find some kind of dispossessed monster: a scribbled thing composed in large part of black, criss-crossing lines. Only a few of the creature’s features are actually identifiable, like its mouth-full of cracked white teeth —sharp and sporadic— for example. Its color palette is a cosmic swirl of baby blues and pinks and purples, sometimes psychedelically-interwoven, other times staticky or swathed. Depending on your perspective, you may see the two central swabs of blocky black as eyes, or you may see the smattered white around them as a kind of blindfold. Thick black lines arc off of the creature’s outline and veer outward to the edge of the frame. The creature itself, and everything within its outlines, is still. Conspicuously still. Deathly still. All around it, however, is that hellish XCOPY glitchiness. Black lines and staticky stalagmites of dotted blue/purple/pink flash like mad in the background, spiking in places and thus appearing like cryptocurrency price charts or a heartbeat monitor; either reading feels apt, I’d argue. With every frame-wide flash, these lines dissolve into blocks or switch places or grow/dwindle in thickness. Such changes come quickly and without any discernible logic, all to exhausting effect. From the top of the frame, globs of pink color drool down the artwork’s y-axis, as if they might really be the paint drippings their digital composition suggests they are.

The monster itself is a sort of motif from this era of XCOPY’s artistry, appearing in sporadic Tumblr posts like this one, Can you copy me in please from September 15, 2018, and this one from September 19, which advertises another minted piece called New Teeth 2033 (unfortunately also lost, casualty of another platform, Digital Objects).

Cracked’s Artist Description, “A tribute to the rat race and all those that run it and lose,” heralds and reinforces a key theme in XCOPY’s works: the way the artist often expressly situates his pieces within the world of crypto and NFTs. We can see this elsewhere, for example, in his well-known 1/1 piece Right-click and Save As guy, or his open edition MAX PAIN AND FRENS, both of which overtly reference wider cultural attitudes about NFTs. And as mentioned, Cracked heralds quite a lot about the XCOPY style that was to crystallize in the future. Yes, that style appeared in pieces many times before Cracked was minted, but this piece contains it all in one package: the bestial characters prevalent through many of the artist’s forthcoming works; the colors; the smudgy and quasi-brushstroked composition; the intimation of Microsoft Paint; the presence of goopy and runny color that emulates physical paint even though its been created digitally, painstakingly.

Still from Cracked (2018), by XCOPY. Housed in Museum of Crypto Art Genesis Collection

All that said, I don’t believe Cracked is XCOPY’s greatest artwork. Colors are weirder, brighter, more unique elsewhere, like in WFH_Death. This monstrous character is less recognizable than the hooded skeleton used frequently in pieces like Death Wannabe or Last Selfie. Later works would contain more complex compositions (The State of Us), sharper commentaries (When Airdrop?), an overall condensation of style. But what keeps me attracted to Cracked is the way it seems to be a nexus for all the artistry of XCOPY which came before and all which would come after. This feels rare and special. In Cracked is the early artist still unaware of all that is to come, yes, but nevertheless in possession of all the gifts which will arrive him at his destination. This single artwork is the trumpeted harbinger of a mighty and as-of-yet inimitable future.

Which creates a certain serendipity in Cracked’s general inaccessibility and underappreciation. Though it may well be a central pillar in XCOPY’s artistry, only true devotees of the artist will likely ever find their way to this piece (barring the appearance of some future metadata solution). Transference and sale of the token are near impossible given the circumstances, which reduces Cracked to a purely visual product, flippers and clout-chasers beware. But when new and eager eyes do settle on this piece, they will find in it an announcement of all the artist would come to do later. Cracked feels to me like finding an author’s early drafts hidden in their desk, scantlings of their soul scribbled there in the margins for all to see. It is akin to a statement of artistic purpose, jotted haphazardly on a napkin in 1955 and given to a lover, only to be discovered 60 years later by a granddaughter reorganizing the attic. She holds the ragged paper up to the light, stares at it in disbelief, and wonder’s if it’s her right, or responsibility, to share.

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