What’s an “institution” anyways?

During the GREAT (NFT) BULL RUN OF 2021, there was much support for the mission of “don’t let the institutions steal [y]our JPEGs“. Indeed, we banded around this collective objective, slurping up and hodling anything resembling “blue chip” even if they’d been minted the day before, all while we daydreamed of the future fortunes that would inevitability accrue to us. “Early-As-A-Service” in all its 8-bit glory, those were the days!

At the time, just in case you weren’t there and are only finally reading accounts like this, thought leaders like Punk6529 steered this digitally-native “charge of the light brigade”i first from their soap boxes and then as fund-fueled impressarios, all around this meme of “us” against “them.” Since fear is arguably the most powerful emotion known to mankind, and since fear of theft so readily triggers our protective responses, this meme has been repeated 10`000`000 times since, certainly enough to make it “true” despite the fact that “institutions” were never fully apprehended in the first place. So what exactly are “institutions” anyways?ii And what have we to fear?

From the chat:

Pete: Let the tax write-off contest begin!iii

Jiran: On-chain philantrooopooorr.iv Turns out the institutions aren’t coming we’re just giving it to them.

Pete: Has it ever been otherwise?

Jiran: The thread writers told me otherwise Pete

Pete: All institutions are is groups of people with giga-long-term plans, nice buildings, and very good marketing.

Jiran: Though I don’t think most people know how museums work

Pete: Museums don’t fall from the sky. Storks don’t bring them into being.

Jiran: Yeh lol I never understood the museum narrative, like rich people always donate shit. Not the other way around lol #philanthropy

Pete: Donating to museums is *exactly* what you do when you’re middle-rich, ie. not rich enough to start OWN museumv

Jiran: Pete over here flexxing. Making his own museumvi

Pete: Lol except public isn’t invited to mine

Jiran: Now that’s my kinda museum!

Jiran’s right too. Most people probably don’t understand how institutions work. For example, what’s a museum? Hm? Let’s dig into this a little more starting with our now-go-to sparring partnerChat:vii

Institutions in the context of art refer to organizations, establishments, or systems that play a role in creating, presenting, preserving, or promoting art. Examples of art institutions include museums, galleries, art schools, art fairs, art foundations, and art auction houses. These institutions can have a significant impact on the development of art, as they often shape public perception, influence the market, and support artists and their work.

Organisations! That’s really the operative word here…but what are organisations exactly? Well, they’re groups of people. Not just any people mind you; people with a story, sales skills, and a track-record of survival. So in fact, they’re almost exactly the kind of people “CryptoArtwants needs for long-term survival. Even OG CryptoArtistes have only been around for a decade (eg. XCOPY), which, when compared with the institutions staging works by Kiefer, Kapoor, and Wei Wei is… really not much! So why the animosity? Why the tension and resistance? Is this just Oedipus trying to kill his father and marry his mother?

It might be, but the more sanguine approach, as Signore de’ Medici demonstrates, is to look at the established institutions and cherry-pick from their playbook, learning how the “big boys” in TradArt have been doing it since, like, forever, and copytrade dat shit. To whit:viii

Let’s take a look at how the traditional art world works.

Art works are typically sold from a gallery, of which the artist only keeps 50% (or less) of the sale price. At that point, the owner of the art work can hold the art work for a period of time then donate it to a museum or other non-profit institute if they are so inclined. The museum (where the owner of the art work probably sits on the board) then sets the value of the artwork and the owner/donor gets to use 50% of the donated value as a tax write off – the deduction is on the sales/donation price, not on the acquisition price.

For example, let’s say a collector pays $1mm for an artwork, then the museum he donates the art work to (where he sits on the board) decides it is worth $10mm. Effectively he has realized $5mm in tax write offs. Buy, Donate, Profit.

Che sorpresa, the model works! Sure, super-pseudonymous super-OGs will snub their nose as such “concessions,” such “giving in,” but it’s the path of least resistance; the road most likely to be traveled this side of setting up our own institutions with accompanying foundations and all the ridiculous political/logistical/financial complexity that comes with that.

So why shouldn’t most of us stick to doing what we love – buying overpriced JPEGs – and pawning them off on TradArt in ways that are mutually beneficial? Let those chumps fine folks deal with the drudgery and pain of conservation and marketing while we stick to degen’ing! That way we keep doing what we to do best: collecting arthaving fun, and keeping the 24/7 come-one-come-all-techno-optimistic-casino purring like a Toyota V12 (with 6 turbochargers); and they get to do what they do best: keeping the excess fine arts PhDs away from soup kitchens and bridge underpasses. It’s a win-win!

Besides, all good things need an opposite – yin needs yang, black needs white, left needs right – so why can’t we all just work together as group of people with a giga-long-term vision?

Y’know, like an institution.

  1. The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892):

    Half a league, half a league,
    Half a league onward,
    All in the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.
    “Forward, the Light Brigade!
    Charge for the guns!” he said.
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

    “Forward, the Light Brigade!”
    Was there a man dismayed?
    Not though the soldier knew
    Someone had blundered.
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die.
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

    Cannon to right of them,
    Cannon to left of them,
    Cannon in front of them
    Volleyed and thundered;
    Stormed at with shot and shell,
    Boldly they rode and well,
    Into the jaws of Death,
    Into the mouth of hell
    Rode the six hundred.

    Flashed all their sabres bare,
    Flashed as they turned in air
    Sabring the gunners there,
    Charging an army, while
    All the world wondered.
    Plunged in the battery-smoke
    Right through the line they broke;
    Cossack and Russian
    Reeled from the sabre stroke
    Shattered and sundered.
    Then they rode back, but not
    Not the six hundred.

    Cannon to right of them,
    Cannon to left of them,
    Cannon behind them
    Volleyed and thundered;
    Stormed at with shot and shell,
    While horse and hero fell.
    They that had fought so well
    Came through the jaws of Death,
    Back from the mouth of hell,
    All that was left of them,
    Left of six hundred.

    When can their glory fade?
    O the wild charge they made!
    All the world wondered.
    Honour the charge they made!
    Honour the Light Brigade,
    Noble six hundred!

  2. We’ve already expanded our understanding of what it means to be a “collector,” what exactly “late capitalism” is, and what a “hackathon” is, and what a “sovereign individual” is, so we might as well figure out “institutions” next!
  3. Archived.
  4. Philanthropy” indeed.
  5. ie. your last name isn’t Getty, Broad, Guggenheim, de Camondo, Petersen, Pinault, Frick, Heard, etc etc.
  6. Call it a “museum” if you must, but I still call it “our studio“!
  7. Chat is the non-evil (non-Bing) one.
  8. Via Where Do NFT Values Sink To by Tamara Frankel, August 2020 (archived). 

3 thoughts on “What’s an “institution” anyways?

  1. […] But on the other hand, accelerationistas like Tyler Cowenv may be right that absolutely no one has any fucking clue about the full implications of AI (or any other technological advancement) and that we shouldn’t be such little bitches about taking the plunge into waters unknown. But is questioning our cojones really such a strong argument, much less a winning formula? Not that bravery and courage are anything less than essential qualities of successful human culture, but is watching the cavalry charge into machine gun fire really so noble? […]

  2. […] of history books, and are likewise fashioning cultural institutions of import in their own images. There’s really no better way! For those collectors focusing primarily on this angle, the ones remembered for the most centuries […]

  3. […] sense of the term! So I’m very much looking forward to checking out the new Rothko exhibit at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in a few weeks. It’s been 5 years since I last spent any considerable time with […]

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