“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.” – Vincent Van Gogh
In his short but very prolific lifetime Van Gogh created over 2000 works of art ,but is said to have sold only one painting for 400 francs ($70). This past November his watercolor Meules de blé (Wheat Stacks), sold at auction at Christie’s for $35.86 million. Despite his posthumous success, when he died at 37, Van Gogh was penniless.
Vincent Van Gogh is one of many artists who did not reap financial benefits from their creations. Yet, imagine if countless artists who died poor had the opportunity to earn future profits from their masterpieces?
Entrepreneur Daniela Ciocca says no need to imagine. “For the first time in history, artists can benefit from the future success of their work,” says the prolific crypto and NFT trader. Ciocca, who spent fifteen years in finance working with multiple hedge funds, left asset-management in 2019 to pursue crypto-trading full-time.
Working in hedge funds she was privy to loads of research. “Also, I’m a research junky, so after reading a piece about Bitcoin in early 2019, I went down a crypto rabbit hole and set out to learn everything I could about it. It felt so counterculture and, at that point, Bitcoin had survived ten years without disappearing into obsolescence,” observes Ciocca. “So it seemed like this revolutionary concept had moved past the experimental phase and found some significant footing. I was immediately hooked.”
In the past year when NFTs (non-fungible tokens) exploded in popularity Ciocca saw how artists could not only have sovereignty over their creations, she also recognized how NFTs could help raise capital for the non-profit sector and benefit charities and other community efforts.
“My interest is in the intersection between art, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. It’s also how NFTs, as an extension of the crypto sovereign model, empower artists to benefit from the success of their work as opposed to galleries and collectors reaping the majority of benefits,” says Ciocca. “NFTs have the ability to create unparalleled opportunities for individuals and communities to raise significant sums of money for causes they believe in all while smashing the barriers of the class system for artists and investors. This is a truly inspirational model.”
In fact, Ciocca has a vision of how blockchain can democratize the art world and philanthropy. “Crypto has created opportunities that extend to everyone, not just the privileged. Credentialism is beginning to fade,” says Ciocca. “An artist doesn’t have to be represented by the next Leo Castelli to have a successful career. And the buyer doesn’t have to be a millionaire to build an art collection.”
With a desire to help nurture artists, teach them how blockchain technology can support them and raise capital for charitable organizations, Ciocca founded Plutonic, a company focused on building synergistic partnerships between artists, companies and non-profits utilizing digital art in the NFT space. This month Plutonic is hosting its first pop-up gallery installation, The Artist Died Poor, in New York City, from February 25 to March 6.
“Each artist is donating a unique NFT (or work of art) for auction with 100% of proceeds supporting programs for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking through Middle Way House, designated as one of six model shelters by the US Department of Justice,” says Ciocca. In addition to the art, the multifaceted program features storytelling, jazz, beat poetry, a harmonic sound bath, a comedy night, Mardi Gras party and more. (Visit here for more details.)
“The Artist Died Poor is bridging the physical and metaverse art worlds,” explains Ciocca. “Both physical and digital art will be showcased in mixed media formats. NFT artists will get the experience of presenting their work to an in-person audience. The events are intended to bring people together to enhance the visceral experience as a contrast to sitting behind a computer while taking life in through a screen. It’s meant to reconnect us.”
For Ciocca it was key to have live in-person performances to accompany the art installation. “Psychologists and neuroscientists have conducted studies determining when we share in-person, collective experiences like live theater and performances, our heartbeats synchronize with other people in the audience, whether we know them or not,” she says. “How beautiful is that? It’s something we’re sorely missing as we drift further into the digital era.”
That said, Ciocca also recognizes that the digital age provides the unique opportunity to reach an expansive audience and connect with strangers around the globe. “We will also be live-streaming some of our events in hopes that some of that energy can resonate beyond the physical space,” she adds. “We want this to be accessible to all.”
Jeryl Brunner: How can artists benefit from selling their art as NFTs?
Daniela Ciocca: The process of tokenizing digital art onto the blockchain is called minting. It’s essentially creating a contract that’s tied to your art. Artists can program that contract to include royalties. That means, every time their art is re-sold on the blockchain, they will receive a percentage of the sale value.
Brunner: What are some unexpected ways artists can profit and also give back?
Ciocca: That’s where this gets really exciting! Artists in the NFT space have access to a 24/7 international market of traders and collectors, creating a much more liquid environment than physical art offers. That, in addition to the price appreciation in the crypto sector and the euphoria experienced by participants, has led people to pay incredibly high sums for some NFT art.
For example, I was at Sotheby’s in November, admiring a Degas in advance of an auction. I remember converting the expected auction range price from USD to ETH, which was about $200k to $300k or 42-65 ETH. At the same time, CryptoPunks, a 10,000-piece collection of generative NFT art from 2017, were selling for 2-3 times more than the Degas. Owning a CryptoPunk was a status symbol in the crypto community and unbelievably was selling for more than a universally revered piece of art history.
Now imagine an artist or a project using that social cachet to raise money for non-profits or social enterprises. Whether it be through a percentage of a sale price, a donation of art or the creation of a unique piece for auction– the opportunity for fundraising is limitless.
Brunner: How did you curate the shows and select the artists in the program?
Ciocca: As we shift further away from the public sphere and more into the metaverse, each artist’s collection uniquely connects us to these themes of altered reality. Lucinda Schreiber is an animator, illustrator and director. She used a Brautigan poem to loosely inspire her debut NFT collection Cybernetic Meadow, which features solitary female characters staring off into the distance while surrounded by various conglomerates of nature and machine.
Urumumi is a Catalonian artist whose minimalist techniques so perfectly punctuate the isolating mood in their creation of the Lonely Astronauts collection. These characters find themselves completely engrossed by the expansive, desolate, yet beautiful lands they discover. Gossip Goblin is a prolific NFT artist. This show will be featuring his work from The Divine Order of the Zodiac, an astrology-based project with written lore describing an alternate history of how the galaxy formed and humanity took shape. Javier Piñon is an internationally celebrated collage artist who is animating select pieces of his work for his debut NFT collection. Javier hails from the other side of the dystopian view with disjointed characters existing in visceral spaces. Joel Fitzpatrick is a medium mystic who works in light, video and pixel mapping. For The Artist Died Poor he is creating a site-specific light installation and debuting his first ever NFT collection, which will provide a reflective lens for the entire curation.
Brunner: And what about the live events during The Artist Died Poor?
Ciocca: They are meant to serve as a complete counterpoint to the solitary experience. We are celebrating a multitude of sensory experiences, art forms and genres to complement the visual installation. The opening reception will feature appraisals by The Bumby’s and the poetic cello compositions of Cellista. The Brass Queens will perform for Mardi Gras weekend. We have a comedy night featuring Emma Willmann, Zarna Garg, Josh Johnson, Kenice Mobley, Diane Neal, H. Foley. There is a storytelling, beat poetry and jazz event performed by Ari Gold, Maeve Higgins, Caveh Zahedi, Daniel Pinchbeck, Michael Leviton. There will be an NFT 101 chat with astrologer Ophira Edut of Astrostyle and a harmonic sound bath with Rudra Bach.
Brunner: Some people feel that being in front of a computer 24/7 is isolating. What are other ways crypto can unite and bring us together?
Ciocca: Since the sovereign model is one where peer-to-peer networks are shaping our future companies and projects, each endeavor represents a team-building exercise and opportunity for people to connect. GrailersDAO and Bright Moments’ CryptoCitizens are great examples of decentralized companies (or DAOs) that serve as excellent models for team and community building, both in-person and on Discord
Brunner: What do you hope to do next?
Ciocca: My goal is to marry my organizational skills from building infrastructure on Wall Street with my passion for giving back and connecting people. Plutonic will next focus on working with partners and artists to raise funds to research common yet understudied medical issues that plague women and coming up with innovative ways to address them.
I’m most excited about the energy that exists in this space to rally behind causes and use art as the conduit to unite worlds, industry and individuals to create community impact.