WHO IS PAK? THE ARTIST’S FANS COULDN’T CARE LESS

Sotheby’s plucked the anonymous artist out of a new NFT canon cropping up online. But the artist’s social-media avatar is a zero, nickname is “The Nothing”: “I like being gray.”

By Balthazar Malevolent

WHO IS PAK? THE ARTIST’S FANS COULDN’T CARE LESS

Is Pak the future of art? The question continues to puzzle the art establishment after the enigmatic digital artist who goes by a single moniker was ushered into the art world’s upper echelons last week through a high-profile, three-day online auction at Sotheby’s that totaled $17 million.

The sale, which offered both one-of-a-kind images featuring floating, geometrical shapes and tens of thousands of matching cubes that can be traded like crypto coins, was the auction house’s first foray into the new marketplace for non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. The sale also stood out to art-market insiders because the creator behind it all isn’t well known to galleries or museums.

The fact that Sotheby’s elevated the artist with a solo sale anyway is the latest sign of Pak’s ascendance as the Pied Piper of virtual art—a creator long hailed by a new generation of digital artists and crypto investors whose purchasing power could ultimately affect art values overall.

Everything about Pak is deliberately opaque—much like the cryptocurrency markets that propelled the artist’s career. Pak is a pseudonym for an anonymous artist or possibly a team of creators. The artist, who the auction house says prefers the pronouns they/them, won’t say—and the artist’s online fans don’t appear to care. Some digital-art websites such as Behance have listed Pak as hailing from Istanbul. Others on Twitter claim Pak is Pakistani without offering evidence, while digital sleuths in lengthy Reddit debates have tracked Pak’s sites’ IP addresses to Istanbul and Amsterdam. Pak’s social-media avatar is a zero, and the artist’s nickname is “The Nothing.”

Thousands of people, like Manila-based crypto investor Colin Goltra, logged on throughout the sale just to see if Pak added unexpected twists to the auction. “I’m sure art purists will be put off by the artist since the market is part of his performance,” Mr. Goltra, referring to the artist in male terms, adding, “But we see him as one of us.”

Sotheby’s Chief Executive Charles Stewart said he knew Pak might be a leap for his traditional clientele. But the house had to meet cryptocurrency investors where they were already collecting, he said. Ultimately, 3,080 people bought Pak works over the course of the sale, mostly $500-$1,500 tokenized cubes. Beeple’s $69 million piece easily eclipsed Pak’s overall sale, but Mr. Stewart said the Pak sale demonstrates the depth of a potential bidding pool at a lower entry level. “Love it, hate it, at least we’re talking,” Mr. Stewart said.

Zachary Kaplan, executive director of Rhizome, a nonprofit arts organization affiliated with New York’s New Museum that champions digital art, said he hasn’t been tracking Pak’s rise, but he knows that the artist’s “liquid finish” style is popular among NFT collectors, and he is curious if the broader art world will start to embrace that aesthetic. “If those two groups of collectors align behind these virtual artists like Pak, it’ll impact art history,” he said.

As NFT prices overall have softened in recent days, the artist said they are aware that collectors will start sifting their favorite NFT artists, taking stock and possibly adding physical artworks to their collections. Already, major Pak admirers like Justin Sun, who founded the cryptocurrency Tron, have started collecting trophies like a $20 million Pablo Picasso portrait of the artist’s blonde mistress offered last month at Christie’s London. (Mr. Sun said he still bought 1,686 of Pak’s cubes in the open-edition portion of Sotheby’s sale.)

“Now, I feel like we’re almost mainstream, and everyone is taking positions,” Pak said. Rather than take a social-media break, the artist said, “I feel like the main game is just starting now.”

Pak

In other news, Rick Owens Fall 2021 fashion show. On the subject of underthings, the pentagram briefs from the January men’s show reappeared here wrapped around evening clutches, the implication being that these alien females had handled the “unhinged male aggression” that those briefs signified.

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