Next April, Nyan Cat will be 10 years old. To celebrate this anniversary, its creator Chris Torres remastered the original version of the world’s most famous GIF, to sell it as a work of art on the Crypto-art Foundation website.
Put up for auction for 24 hours, the GIF finally sold last weekend for 300ETH ((Ethereum is a decentralized, open-source blockchain, Ether (ETH) is its native cryptocurrency.)), the equivalent of €384,000.
Nyan Cat, a myth of web culture
The Nyan Cat is a meme popularized by a video born on YouTube on April 6, 2011.
In just a few days, the video reached several million views. A viral phenomenon, “Nyan Cat” is taken up by dozens of Internet users who extend its initial version from 3 minutes 36 to 10, then 24 hours. Again, these videos accumulate a bewildering number of views.
But the original version of this cat comes from the illustrator Chris Torres (under the nickname @prguitarman) who, on April 2, 2011, published the first Nyan Cat on his LOL-COMICS site. It’s a mix of cartoon cat and Pop-Tart. In an interview on the Pop Goes The Week website, Torres recounts how the idea for the Nyan Cat came about: “I was doing a fundraiser for the Red Cross and between two drawings in my Livestream video chat two different people mentioned that I should draw a “Pop Tart” and a “Cat”. This cat is also inspired by his cat Marty, who died in 2012.
A few days later, the cat is animated and put on Youtube by user saraj00n who adds the Japanese song “Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya!” (published in 2010) to it. “Nyan” is the Japanese equivalent of our “Miaow”. A repeated miaow, a wtf hybrid cat – the recipe for a mythical meme. Today, the video of January 6, 2011 has accumulated more than 185 million views 😳.
In 10 years, Nyan Cat has been widely used: hundreds of memes, of course. But also on the Youtube progress bar, in cosplay, on vans, and really in just about anything and everything, including a lot of miscellaneous items for sale.
What is crypto-art?
Increasingly popular in recent years, crypto-art has seen its best period in 2020. It is a system of digital works of art directly linked to the blockchain in the form of NFT (non-fungible tokens), which make the purchase, ownership, exchange or resale of a work of art secured and verified through a cryptographic system. These digital tokens are therefore unique and irreplaceable. These NFTs are registered in the blockchain, which authenticates and makes the data and transactions of a work of art forgery-proof.
For many artists, crypto-art is a real revolution. Since its origins, the Internet has fostered the free and open flow of culture and information. For many “digital artists” this model has made it almost impossible to capitalise on their talent online. But with the recent development of platforms such as Zora, Rarible, Foundation or Superrare, an alternative art market has emerged, allowing many artists to sell their digital creations.
This was notably the case for Sean Lennon, son of the Beatles singer and Yoko Ono, who sold a drawing on Rarible at the end of last year for the equivalent of $3,200.
As a sign of the democratisation of crypto-art, the major British auction house Christie’s recently announced that it would be putting up for sale “Everydays: The First 5000 Days“, a work of art by Mike Winkelmann (also known as Beeple), which will be possible to buy with NFTs.
Crypto-art can take a much more abstract form, however. In 2018, Irish artist Kevin Abosch sold his digital artwork, Forever Rose, to ten collectors (including crypto-investors) for a total of $1 million. Each buyer received a tenth of the virtual photo in the form of a token.
The specialised site La Gazette Drouot reports the explanations of researcher Primavera De Filippi (“Blockchain and crypto-currencies”) as to the benefit of such practices: “By associating a digital work with a token on the blockchain, artists can now transfer the ownership of their artwork or license the rights to it”, and the site adds: “A boost for the copyright of artists, not just digital, proving the authorship of their artwork. This also means that several people can share ownership of the work”.
The future of art?
There are two main opposing visions for the democratisation of these platforms. Some observers, such as Jean-Marc Koskievic (professor at the Paris Business School), consider that this art market is doomed to become entirely “speculative”. For him, “art becomes an asset like any other” which will lead to an art market “as volatile as the price of bitcoin”.
But for artists like Chris Torres, the blockchain is welcome because it brings transparency to the market and above all makes it possible to certify the provenance of an artwork and its authenticity, as we have just mentioned. The purchase can also be motivated by the prestige that comes with owning an artwork. One then becomes “the sole holder of the rights to this work”. Sort of a post-internet equivalent of owning a real Rembrandt in one’s living room. For buyers, crypto art is a better way to support the artists they love, through direct financial contribution. Contribution that these artists would not have received according to the standards of the traditional art market. For Torres, this gives “power back to the creator” and it allows them to be paid for a work that would have been spread for free on the internet anyway.