Worthless…false value… contributes nothing to society…joke. These disparaging remarks were made in reference to the Shiba Inu Coin at peak SHIBI. I would have agreed wholeheartedly myself, but I was given pause. Something felt disconcertingly familiar about the attitude and the verbiage surrounding the coin.
Floating in my mind’s eye was an inverted urinal rudely signed R. Mutt. And yes, it was every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.
The inverted urinal, titled “Fountain” by French artist Duchamp, caused quite the uproar in 1917. It was deemed a loathsome afront and a tasteless joke at the time. The very idea of a ready-made sculpture, a mass-manufactured object taken from its original context and recontextualized to an elevated art object by the will of the artist, was preposterous. Today Duchamp is touted as the father of the ready-made and the moment he submitted his piece to the Society of Independent Artists is the greatest damn moment in art history. By the way, never disagree with an Academic in the Arts about this fact. They will fight you. Invoking “Western Chauvinism” is the only known counterattack.
It was a revolution and a revelation! The value was not in the object itself but in the concept of liberating the object from its original context. It freed artists, for better or worse, to create value from that which is deemed valueless. And there lay the utility. Just as the utility is not in the SHIBI itself but in the values and behavior of the community holding the coin. A ready-made currency.
Could it be that SHIBI is to “Fountain '' as Musk is to Duchamp? Several labels have been slapped on Elon, but the conceptual artist doesn’t seem to be one. That is surprising as he is a manically creative workaholic with personality traits that usually coincide with the artist archetype.
Conceptual art is not about the object, material, skill, or subject. It is all about the discourse of the artist, curator, gallerist, institution and audience surrounding the work. What Musk has been doing with crypto on Twitter is choosing a ready-made currency and elevating its value by creating discourse around the coin. Yeah, it’s just a joke though, right? Yes. Just as “The Comedian”, by Maurizio Cattelan, is just a joke. Jokes have been doing big business in the art markets of Western countries for decades. The very fact that it is a joke is why it should be considered more seriously.
This is not to say one should break the piggy bank open and snatch up as many Musk Bucks as possible. However, this may be indicative of the developing creator economy where many investors are collectors more interested in cultural and historical artifacts, physical or digital than monetary returns exclusively.
What kind of brave new economy would a currency with the intrinsic value of modern art create?
Mr. Musk is even following the provenance of ancient coinage in his favoring of Dogecoin, as there is a long history of mankind putting our best friends on our monies.
Check out this super interesting bit of visual history: Forget Shiba Inu and Dogecoin, these 5 ancient dog coins got there first (protos.com)