Perhaps the most useful and honest image from the new website advertising Donald Trump’s digital trading cards is at the bottom of the page, where Trump gives two thumbs up while winking at the viewer. The twofold message seems simple: Everything is A-OK, and this is all a bit of a joke.
People certainly laughed heartily on Thursday when Trump made what he had billed as a “Major Announcement.” He was now offering for sale “limited edition” digital trading cards, featuring what appeared to be risibly amateurish images of the former president playing golf, posing as an astronaut, surrounded by bars of gold and shooting lasers from his eyes.
This latest entrepreneurial endeavor from a businessman with myriad failures and bankruptcies seems to be a belated effort to cash in on the market for “non-fungible tokens.” NFTS include the sale of images given a unique digital stamp and thus, theoretically, an artificial scarcity. NFTS use bitcoin technology and can be bought and sold like any other commodity. The market for them may have peaked in 2021 with the $69 million sale of a digital collage by an artist called Beeple. Since then, the market has crashed.
Critics derided the crude iconography of the images and their clumsy construction. The “Collect Trump Cards” website attributes the designs to Clark Mitchell, an artist who specializes in popular imagery, saying, “He has prominent working relationships with brands such as Star Wars, Hasbro, Mattel, Marvel.” Mitchell has a basic mastery of the hypermasculine tropes of comic book culture and professional sports.
If the images seen on the website are similar to the digital images that will be transferred to anyone who pays the $99 fee, then the Trump cards will feature clumsy Photoshop pictures of the former president’s face grafted onto reasonably fit male bodies, clad in various costumes of masculine bravado, including sporting garb, a sheriff’s duster and lots of blue suits.
The Lincoln Project, a political action committee that specializes in slickly produced social media mockery of Trump, posted a clip of the online video announcement overlaid with canned laughter. “Stop. We can only laugh so much,” said the tweet, which had racked up more than 19,000 likes a day after the Major Announcement.
Along with laughter, however, was the pervasive sense that this newest scheme has distilled the essence of Trump to its purest form. It was “on brand” in a way more telling and disturbing than previous efforts to cash in on a name once associated with the Oval Office.
We can look to some of the darker trends in the contemporary art market to sharpen that intuition. In his announcement, Trump wrote, “These limited edition cards feature amazing ART of my Life & Career!”
Art was prominently capitalized, sharpening the dissonance between a word that summons thoughts of Leonardo, Rembrandt and Picasso and the image that followed — Trump as superhero in tights and a cape. A similar dissonance is often felt in contemporary art museums and markets when seemingly trivial or worthless objects — garbage or things found on the street, random mementos plucked from the cupboard of memory — are repurposed as art and treated as both intellectually substantial and commercially valuable.
The shorthand critique of this phenomenon is: “My kid could do that.” And, indeed, your kid could probably make images of Trump as laughably awful as the ones that Trump is now attempting to sell, if your kid has even a passing familiarity with the tropes of pop culture and basic competence with photo-editing software.
In the art world, the conceptual move that rebrands supposed trash as art isn’t quite so simple. It has a long pedigree, dating back to the work of Marcel Duchamp, whose infamous “readymade” sculpture included a 1917 work known as “Fountain,” a urinal turned 90 degrees on its axis and signed with a cipher for the artist’s name. And, yes, your kid could probably reposition a urinal and sign his or her name to it, but they probably couldn’t do it at just the right historical moment to inaugurate a century of discussion about what constitutes art. Is it the material object or the idea? An original form or its iteration?
People laughed at Duchamp’s urinal, and they are laughing still at its descendants, which can be found in galleries and art markets around the world. This isn’t to argue that Trump’s ART is art. It isn’t. What matters here is how laughter defines community and how closely Trump’s attempt to market amateurish iconography parallels the way artists, critics and collectors have used laughter to establish the boundaries of the art world.
Simply put, if you can’t take Duchamp or conceptual art seriously, you are a philistine, by the definition of the art world. It proves that you are unwilling or incapable of a basic set of thought exercises and mental calisthenics that are essential to the appreciation of contemporary art. One of the hallmarks of Trump’s art, and the work of other artists who have attempted to market Trump imagery as art, is the expectation that elites will laugh at it. Those who laugh are immediately outsiders to Trump world, where a taste for the tawdry is established as a fundamental shibboleth of loyalty and belonging.
Call it inverse philistinism: the use of intentionally bad imagery, perhaps with a wink, to create an “us-them” dynamic. Other artists who align themselves with Trump have done this, as well. Jon McNaughton, who calls himself “America’s foremost conservative artist,” has created treacly depictions of Trump as a saintly figure nurturing a suffering America to rekindle its idealism and find its true soul. But he has also created a cartoonish image of Trump and his wife, Melania, riding in a giant, flag-emblazoned pickup truck, titled “Keep on Trumpin’,” a reference to a 1968 countercultural cartoon, “Keep on truckin’,” by artist Robert Crumb.
The text below the image (available as a signed canvas print for $399) makes the economy of inverse philistinism explicit: “YOU might be a TRUMP SUPPORTER if you think attaching US flags to a jacked up 4-wheeler is patriotic! … YOU might be a TRUMP SUPPORTER if you hang McNaughton Paintings in your house!” McNaughton also sells Trump NFTs, and Trump’s recent foray into that market is likely an attempt to muscle out competitors.
Another artist, Julian Raven, began an ultimately fruitless battle with the Smithsonian in 2017 after the National Portrait Gallery refused to hang his 16-foot-long painting of Trump’s head next to a soaring eagle and American flag, a portrait only marginally better than Trump’s trading cards. Raven’s challenge to an established museum was a public performance, designed in part to suggest that the Portrait Gallery’s standards of quality and inclusion were simply irrational, and if you believe in inverse philistinism, they are. Once “high art” expanded its boundaries to include “bad art” or things that were never intended to be art, the makers of bad art were empowered to challenge the institutional authority of the art world.
Strategically, of course, the best thing for the Trump brand, the best hope of sustaining his popularity, is to get people who are inclined to laugh at Trump to keep laughing at Trump. This fires the fury of his followers, who feel it is they who are being laughed at, and that in turn inspires the purely tribal sense of identification with the former president.
The joke, in the end, will unfortunately be at the expense of people who pay $99 for his NFTs, which, despite what appears to be an initial surge of interest, are likely to be extremely risky as a long-term investment. But that, too, is very on brand for Trump, a perfect distillation of his unique take on marketing. NFTS are a reductio ad absurdum of art: You aren’t paying for an object or a thing, just an idea or a feeling. Trump does the same for politics: When you invest in him (with your votes, your financial support or simply your affection), you get next to nothing tangible in terms of policy or accomplishments. But you do get to belong to his community, with all its intangible but non-fungible benefits.
Hermès Wins MetaBirkins Lawsuit, With Jurors Deciding NFTs Aren’t Art
Perturbed when an artist made a digital version of its coveted Birkin handbag with a reproduction of a mature fetus inside it, the luxury fashion brand Hermès watched in shock as other iterations popped up online. A Birkin with mammoth tusks affixed to it. One sporting the Grinch’s shaggy green fur. Others stamped with van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or populated by smiley emojis.
Hermès swiftly sued the artist, Mason Rothschild, over the NFT project he called “MetaBirkins,” arguing that the company’s trademark was being diluted and that potential consumers might be fooled into buying the unaffiliated virtual goods.
The case’s ramifications extended far beyond Hermès. In some of the first litigation to scrutinize the nature of digital assets sold on the blockchain, up for debate was whether NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are strictly commodities or art shielded by the First Amendment.
On Wednesday, a nine-person federal jury in Manhattan determined that Rothschild had infringed on the company’s trademark rights and awarded Hermès $133,000 in total damages. The jurors also found that his NFTs were not protected speech.
Rothschild’s defeat was a major blow for the NFT market, which has often described itself as part of the creator economy. But the jury determined that MetaBirkins were more similar to commodities, which are subject to strict trademark laws that prevent copycats, than to artworks where appropriation is protected.
In a statement after the verdict, Hermès said it was compelled to act to protect consumers and the integrity of its brand. “Hermès is a house of creation, craftsmanship and authenticity which has supported artists and freedom of expression since its founding,” it said.
One of Rothschild’s lawyers, Rhett Millsaps II, called it a “great day for big brands” and a “terrible day for artists and the First Amendment.”
Rothschild criticized the jury, the justice system and a luxury fashion house that he said was emboldened to determine who qualified as an artist.
“What happened today was wrong,” he said in a statement. “What happened today will continue to happen if we don’t continue to fight.”
The verdict could provide some guidance for brand owners, said Megan Noh, an art lawyer unaffiliated with the case, “about the line between works of artistic expression and commercial goods.”
What to Know About NFTs
What is an NFT? A nonfungible token, or NFT, is a digital asset that establishes authenticity and ownership and can be verified on a blockchain network. It is a way to claim ownership of a digital file and is comparable to a certificate of authenticity you might get if you buy a sculpture.
Birkin bags, named after the actress Jane Birkin, are made by hand and take specialized artisans a minimum of 18 hours to make. Hermès does not disclose how many of the bags it has made since they were first created in 1984, but some researchers of luxury goods have estimated that there are now more than a million Birkins in the market. In 2021, the auction house Sotheby’s sold a Birkin for more than $226,000.
Rothschild had plans to create 1,000 MetaBirkins, which he has described as an “ironic nod” to the renowned brand, but only 100 have been released since the project began in 2021.
Each was priced at $450, and Rothschild also received 7.5 percent of secondary sales. Hermès has claimed in court filings that MetaBirkins reached about $1.1 million in total sales volume. Rothschild has estimated that he made about $125,000 from the NFTs, including the initial sales and royalties.
“What we see in the Hermès case is how emerging technologies and historic, age-old brands collide,” said Ari Redbord, head of legal and government affairs at TRM Labs, a blockchain analytics firm.
Over the past decade, the French company’s Birkin collection has steadily generated $100 million in sales each year. In recorded testimony played during the trial, Robert Chavez, president and chief executive of Hermès of Paris, said he was not aware of any revenue that the company lost because of MetaBirkins.
During opening arguments in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Oren Warshavsky, a lawyer representing Hermès, argued that MetaBirkins confused consumers who thought they were connected to the fashion brand.
“The reason for these sales was the Birkin name,” he said.
Rothschild’s legal team questioned whether people wealthy enough to afford Birkins, which cost thousands of dollars and often have yearslong wait lists, would be genuinely misled by his art project.
Millsaps also argued that the NFTs were art that was protected under the First Amendment as free speech. The lawyer said Birkins were a “cultural symbol of rarefied wealth and status,” ripe for artists to explore as metaphors of consumerism.
“Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum — it’s often about context,” he said.
Blockchain assets like MetaBirkins were part of the financial boom-and-bust cycle in cryptocurrencies over the past few years. At the market’s height there was a $40 billion industry around digital collectibles, but fortunes eroded last year as the volume of NFT sales fell by 97 percent.
Yet lawsuits are still playing out across the beleaguered industry, including trademark fights focused not on the technology itself, but the essence of what users have stored on the blockchain.
Yuga Labs, the creator of the NFT franchise Bored Ape Yacht Club, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the artist Ryder Ripps, accusing him of copying its imagery. (Ripps has said the lawsuit attacks his free speech rights.) The company announced on Monday that it had settled a separate case against Thomas Lehman, a developer on Ripps’s NFT project, who admitted to infringing on the Yuga Labs brand.
Noh said the best protection artists have against trademark disputes is the Rogers test, a legal standard established in 1989.
In that case, the actor Ginger Rogers had sued the movie producer Alberto Grimaldi, arguing that the film “Ginger and Fred” violated her trademark rights because it used her name in connection with its fictionalized depiction of a pair of washed-up Italian dancers. But a federal appeals court determined that the use of the name Ginger was an expressive element of the title, artistically relevant to the underlying film, and therefore subject to First Amendment interests that needed to be weighed against the risk of misleading consumers.
Rebecca Tushnet, a Harvard Law School professor who helped prepare Rothschild’s defense, said the Rogers test meant “you can’t hold someone liable for infringement unless their work is artistically irrelevant or explicitly misleading.”
During the trial’s opening arguments, Hermès attempted to minimize Rothschild’s credibility and artistic intent by focusing on his business strategy, displaying text messages in which he asked social media influencers to “do one more shill post” that might raise demand for his NFTs. The company’s lawyer also told the jury that Rothschild had publicized its cease-and-desist letter on social media, hoping that conflict might drive interest.
Judge Jed S. Rakoff granted Hermès’s motion to exclude a report prepared by the art critic Blake Gopnik that favorably compared the MetaBirkins to artwork by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. (Gopnik contributes to The New York Times.)
The defense painted a more sympathetic picture of Rothschild, 28, who worked in retail for streetwear brands and luxury brands like Saint Laurent after dropping out of college. In 2021, he and Ericka del Rosario, now his fiancée, opened a concept store in Los Angeles called Terminal 27. He often hired assistants with the technical skills he lacked to work on projects, including MetaBirkins.
Rothschild was “a conceptual artist,” Millsaps, his lawyer, said. “The idea guy, not the guy who executes the job.”
The strength of trademark rights will soon be tested again when a case between Jack Daniels and VIP Products, which sold squeaky dog toys resembling the whiskey maker’s bottles, goes in front of the Supreme Court.
Some veterans of the fashion industry wondered why Hermès had bothered litigating the case at all. Although Chavez testified that the company had been experimenting with its own NFTs, including a project intended for release this year, it has let other unsanctioned projects slide, like when the Brooklyn collective MSCHF turned the Birkin bag into $76,000 “Birkinstocks.”
Ian Rogers, the former chief digital officer of the fashion conglomerate LVMH, who currently works at a crypto company named Ledger, said the company’s preoccupation with Rothschild was puzzling.
“Maybe this hit close to home,” Rogers said. “Luxury people should understand NFTs, because if you have been in the business of explaining why someone would spend $18,000 on a bag then you are pretty well-suited at explaining why someone would pay $3,000 for an NFT.”
The Guardian view on arts education: a creativity crisis
t Winchester college, the alma mater of Rishi Sunak, students can take classes in wood carving and sculpture, perform on a proscenium stage at the school’s 240-seat theatre, or make use of the 2,000 books in its art library. The story is very different at state schools, which have seen a steep reduction in arts provision over the last decade. “The moment that convinced me to go on strike was when my school lost its specialist art teacher,” one striking teacher wrote in this newspaper last week. “Activities such as art [and] music … are the highlight of the week for a lot of pupils, but they’re the first to go when resources are short.”
English state schools are facing a creativity crisis. Since 2010, enrolment in arts GCSEs has fallen by 40% and the number of arts teachers has fallen by 23%. This shift is most pronounced among state schools in deprived areas, where pupils are far less likely to sing in a choir or play in an orchestra. Meanwhile, private schools have invested substantial resources in art and music provision, according to research from Warwick University. This depressing trend is part of a wider and self-reinforcing pattern. As fewer state students have the opportunity to engage with arts or music, fewer go on to study these subjects at A-level or university. The risk is that arts subjects will be restricted to a privileged few, shrinking the cultural horizons of everyone but the elite.
Art makes a person broader-minded and more imaginative. Yet the government’s bleakly utilitarian attitude to education has narrowed the opportunities available to state school students. Artists and teachers have long railed against the English baccalaureate, the system introduced without consultation under the former education secretary Michael Gove in 2010. The Ebacc excludes all arts subjects. It is also the bedrock on which a school’s Progress 8 score is based, which determines its place in performance tables. This gives schools an incentive to focus on “core” subjects – English, maths and sciences. Independent schools are not bound by these rules or performance tables, and are free to do what they deem best for their pupils.
Cuts have made this picture worse. In the 10 years after 2009, spending per pupil in England fell by nearly 10% in real terms. As support staff have been cut, overstretched teachers have less capacity to run choirs or put on school plays. Although the government announced an additional £2.3bn in school funding in last year’s autumn statement, most of this will be eaten up by the growth in school costs. Because arts subjects require space and resources, they are often most vulnerable to budget cuts. In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives promised a £110m arts premium to help schools fund arts programmes and extracurricular activities. This was whittled down to £90m in Mr Sunak’s 2020 budget. He promised this money would arrive by September 2021. But it has still yet to materialise.
The investment that private schools have made in arts provision refutes the notion, favoured by Conservative ministers, that education is simply a training ground for the labour market. But even on a purely economic basis, the government’s approach to arts education is self-defeating. In a recent speech, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, noted that the cultural industries had grown at twice the rate of the UK’s economy over the last decade. Tackling the creativity crisis in state schools is a matter of urgency, both for pupils and for the country as a whole.
Poor old Britain. It’s been a terrible few years. After a succession of crises – austerity, Brexit, partygate, cronyism and sleaze – the country is limping towards a general election, the government out of steam, the public poorer than at any point for perhaps 40 years.
It’s important that everyone, including those like you in Canada, understand this story of sorry decline. The Guardian uncovers the truth about British life every day – its political scandal, royal rows and economic rout – and tells the world about it. That’s a valuable service. Will you invest in the Guardian this year?
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See Inside Actor Jim Carrey’s Art-Filled Home, Now on the Market for $29 Million (Art Not Included)
A new real estate listing from actor-turned-artist Jim Carrey is offering a glimpse of the longtime star’s art-filled Los Angeles home—which could be yours, for a cool $28.9 million.
The sprawling two-acre estate in the city’s Brentwood neighborhood features a 12,700-square-foot ranch home where Carrey has lived for 30 years. It is listed for sale with Sotheby’s International Realty.
“Every night the owls sang me lullabies and every morning I sipped my cup of joe with the hawks and hummingbirds, under a giant grandfather pine,” Carrey told the Wall Street Journal, calling the home “a place of enchantment and inspiration.”
Over the decades, the actor, who has painted since childhood, has filled much of the space with his own art, especially after splitting with actress Jenny McCarthy in 2010 after five years of dating.
The brick facade home has five bedrooms and six bathrooms, plus a gym, a tennis court, an outdoor yoga and meditation platform, a rocky-lined pool with a waterfall, a spa, and a pool house with an infrared sauna and steam room.
Among the works seen on the walls of the home are Carrey’s massive painting Hooray We Are All Broken, hanging behind the sofa in a white-walled living room beneath a pitched beam ceiling with skylights.
He’s been quoted describing the work: “so-called reality is energy and color creating forms that rise out of nothing. Broken figures dancing for each other filled with pain and polkadots, sharing one frequency, yet believing they are separate.”
Carrey also has work outside, with his sculpture Ayla, of a naked woman looking through a window frame, displayed on the lawn. Other personalized decor details include costumes from some of Carrey’s most memorable film roles, such as the green Riddler suit from Batman Forever.
The artwork and costumes don’t come with the house, but they do make prominent appearances in many of the listing’s photos—and some of Carrey’s work is still listed with Signature Gallery Group, which held a solo show of his work in Las Vegas in 2017.
It was Signature Galleries that helped publicize Carrey’s artistic side with a six-minute documentary film, I Needed Color, that same year. In the years since, the actor made headlines for sharing his political cartoons skewering President Donald Trump on Twitter—before quitting the social media platform in December in protest of its new owner, Elon Musk.
Carrey, who has shown his art with Maccarone gallery in Los Angeles, was also among the celebrities to join the NFT space in recent years, releasing a wellness-inspired piece to benefit the charity Feeding America in 2022.
See more photos of the home below.
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