WIRED: When you buy art, you typically get something physical in return: A print, a painting, a sculpture. And that piece of art, depending upon who created it and what happens after you bought it, can become very valuable down the line. Or not. But here’s an interesting idea: What would happen if you were to invest in the artist instead of the art? That’s a question Sarah Meyohas, a young photographer from Yale’s MFA program, hopes to answer with her latest project. Meyohas, working with Brooklyn’s Where gallery, created BitchCoin, a new cryptocurrency. Like bitcoin, BitchCoin is virtual and “mine-able,” but has just one purpose: to buy Meyohas’ art.
Simply put, one BitchCoin, sold for $100, is worth 25 square inches of any one of Meyohas’ photographic prints. This includes all current and future artwork. When you buy a BitchCoin, you receive a certificate with an encrypted number; this slip of paper can be redeemed at any time for physical artwork. Purchasing a complete print requires 25 BitchCoins, or $2,500.
Meyohas has a peculiar background. After graduating from Wharton School of Business, the artist, raised in a family full of finance people, went to Yale for an MFA in photography. While there, she became fascinated by bitcoin. “It was this totally dematerialized value,” she explains. Meyohas started wondering what it might look like to create a place where you could actually purchase these immaterial currencies. “The initial idea was, ‘Oh, how cool would it be to turn a gallery into a cryptocurrency mart?” she recalled. “It could be the mine for something like bitcoin.” Or her own cyrptocurrency she quickly realized.
For the exhibition’s opening, Meyohas mined 200 BitchCoins, and though she’s sold more than 100, no one person has bought enough to redeem for a print. This is where the idea gets really interesting. If you think of BitchCoin as a piece of conceptual art by itself, then $100 doesn’t seem like a bad deal. But you also could treat BitchCoin as a future investment in Meyohas’ work. The currency’s value will fluctuate over time, determined by the market—Meyohas says eventually she’d like to create an exchange or at least hold an auction to determine future value. But the value of Meyohas’ work will remain a constant one BitchCoin for every 25 square inches. So say you purchased 25 BitchCoins today but didn’t cash in until Meyohas produced a seminal work. Not a bad investment.
Of course, like any form of investing, BitchCoin is fueled by prediction and speculation. We have no real way of knowing how successful the artist will be in the future. It’s a bet, and bets can either pay off handsomely or cost you. Regardless, it’s a clever way to reframe the value of artwork by letting the artist herself determine what she believes her artwork should sell for. “Selling artwork has become this mechanized process,” she says. “At its worst, artists are just stuff producers. This is kind of about artists reclaiming agency.”