The artist, known primarily in the web3 space for his generative art, took a different approach to creating this body of work — opting for self-labeled “low effort” generative AI art that met with a mixed response from the crypto art community.
Kane has since made it known that the works are intended to be performative by nature and that this is only “Act 1” of the show. We spoke at length with Kane for a candid look into the inspiration behind the collection, first-hand insights on what’s unfolded since its reveal, and a hint at what’s to come.
Without breaking the fourth wall of his performance, we asked Kane about the inspirations behind “Contractual Obligations,” with a key area of interest being his method of turning the platform in which his works reside into the medium — something he’s done in the past.
Kane shared, “In early 2020, I created a work called ‘ZERO,’ in which I used the dAPP Marble Cards as an artistic medium in order to link my artwork on the blockchain to the website for The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. At the time, I joked ‘ZERO’ was a ‘site-specific’ artwork, a pun on the fact that Marble Cards links website URLs to the NFTs.”
He explained, “In March 2021, I timed the decentralized auction for ‘Cryptoart Monetization Generation‘ to be in sync with the hammer close on the centralized auction for Beeple’s ‘Everydays’ at Christie’s.”
“I took Meules after Claude Monet to Sotheby’s and listed Sotheby’s time, change, and provenance explicitly as artistic medium traits on the NFT,” added Kane.
He also explained that his highly regarded Art Blocks collection “Gazers” “has a ‘No Sale’ Origin Moon trait, which was the origin of that collection. It’s also one of the last Art Blocks releases in the iconic year of 2021. If you know, you know.”
In a more personal example, Kane shared that “‘Crown of Flowers after Bougereau‘ used the coincidental timing of the exhibition’s opening being exactly ten years after losing a dear friend in order to create a timestamp on the blockchain because trauma is never timestamped.”
As for “Contractual Obligations,” Kane shared that it “is a response to the current climate.”
Adding, “Broadly, it’s quite layered, but among the impetus was RarePass marketing making the promise to ‘cement your legacy in the crypto art revolution.’ Time and critics will tell, ‘I’m trying to do my best.’ If all they promised was a fun time, I’d have made different work or probably not participated at all.”
“The work will have more to ‘tell’ by performance end. Understanding I have this rich history of using the context of platforms, time, and transformation as artistic mediums, I hope collectors will remain seated and reserve judgment. They remain free in their choices,” Kane shared.
One topic of debate across the crypto art community is that of Kane changing his “style” for his “Contractual Obligations” body of work.
When asked about this stylistic deviation, Kane replied, “Charles Bukowski said in his poem ‘Style’ that ‘to do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art.’ ‘Contractual Obligations’ answering to RarePass is what I call art.”
Navigating Web3 as an Artist
Before getting further into “Contractual Obligations,” we wanted to glean some insights from Kane’s unique perspective on the space, having been an artist for nearly two decades now.
He shared, “There’s less barrier between artist and collector in web3. Generally, this has been positive for most, but also can be a source of friction as these one-on-one relationships require trust.”
Regarding “peer-to-peer” access, such as being able to follow an artist’s every move on social media or send them DMs, we asked how Kane feels this affects the artist.
He shared, “I know accessibility to artists adds unnecessary pressure. Artists talk. Whether it’s bad intentions or good, there are those in this space who have expected to maintain the privilege of having access to and influence on living artists while disregarding our humanity in some ways — like platforms axing royalties or collectors choosing to collect or trade in such a way so as to remove a living artist’s ability to participate in the success they helped create.”
With these added pressures in mind, we asked what some of the best ways are to navigate them, inquiring if more traditional methods like managers, dealers, or curators could help alleviate them.
Kane shared, “I think Satoshi might’ve been onto something with this whole trustless peer-to-peer idea. Artists have more bargaining power than they realize, independently and collectively.”
He added, “Artists who have been strong enough to grow as artists through their lifetime already understand that if they give up something, they better receive some value-add on the other side, or else it’s just an extractive relationship.”
“In web3, we should be moving away from zero-sum one-way streets where an artist’s labor fuels a company without reciprocal value add, he explained, adding, “Artists want non-zero-sum two-way reciprocity. If you’re making money from the value of artists, you need to add value to what you’re doing. It’s not that we even expect everyone to add value equivalent to the value they’re receiving, but artists should not be expected to live in a ‘Hunger Games’ scenario.”
Curious about his thoughts on pricing expectations and practices, we asked Kane if he felt current methods, like listing new works in parallel to the floors of past bodies of works to appease collectors, is a flawed method or not.
He shared, “It’s not my place to be prescriptive in terms of how any independent artist prices or releases their work. Artists have lots of options. Collectors do, too.”
Now we’ll get into what you’ve all been waiting for: Kane’s open criticism of the SuperRare RarePass, particularly as expressed through “Contractual Obligations.”
Starting from the top, Kane shared, “I went to a SuperRare partner privately to voice my concerns about RarePass. What I was and was not met with directly led to ‘Contractual Obligations.’ If I don’t make ‘Contractual Obligations,’ I’m putting my rubber stamp on the rollout of RarePass as being an example and model for other artists to enter into.”
He added, “I’m not blind to the fact that not meeting this opportunity with an honest critical artwork only leads to more neglect by platforms across the space who would set serving artists, collectors, and culture at a lower priority to other corporate interests. If we’re cementing our legacy in the crypto art revolution, we know better. We all know better. Across the NFT space, we’ve all been paying the price for marketers that overpromise and underdeliver.”
Kane continued to share that over “the last year, I spent time lurking in the RarePass Discord. I read the feedback on X. It was noticeable that artists and collectors grew unhappier as time wore on. I would not have participated in RarePass if I didn’t think it was a valid experiment. We put our faith and trust in the people running this experiment to bring at least what we considered minimal support to our work and reputations that we trusted them with.”
“I believe SuperRare had demonstrated, especially in 2020, that they were capable of contextualizing our work and hiring people who could talk about art and add value for the artist, collectors, and culture,” Kane expressed, adding, “In the face of being asked for 250 1/1’s as a way to help them keep the lights on, this expectation that they would perform at least minimally to the expectations that they themselves set way back in 2020? That’s quite reasonable and would’ve been an ethical result.”
Kane added, “If SuperRare no longer views their responsibility to artists the same way they saw it in 2020 when they led in the crypto art space with SuperRare Editorial, they should make us all aware of this pivot so that we can make better-informed decisions. I stand my ground that there was a moral obligation on their part to provide better for the artists, collectors, and culture than they did. 250 1/1s is a tall order for an artist. 12 to 40 ETH is a tall order for a collector.”
“I’m not saying this is what happened, but speaking strictly theoretically, when artists see a moral obligation not being met in early results, later artists would naturally become incentivized to not ‘bring it.’ Incentivizing minimal effort is not the substance of crypto art,” Kane shared, adding, “What does it say about this space and this ‘revolution’ that this is the game theory being played out by an experiment created by one of our top platforms? Probably a similar thing that it says for the wider community in how game theory led to a race to the bottom, dropping enforced royalties across the board, by platforms like OpenSea.”
He added, “That’s not a revolution, taking the heart out of crypto art. It’s disincentivization to everyone that came to build in this space honestly and contributed to the dynamic of broken incentives that lead to ‘Contractual Obligations.'”
With the above in mind, we asked Kane if he felt RarePass and other passes like it are value adds to the space or if they purely invite speculators over collectors.
He shared, “Passes can be a value add. They should be a value add. It wasn’t until Season 3 of Grails that PROOF began producing elaborate and thoughtful videos telling the stories of participating artists. That’s a huge value add for artists, collectors, and culture.”
Kane said, “I’ve talked to some of the artists from Seasons 1 and 2 of Grails- they feel sad that they didn’t get that same treatment. But that’s why we must reserve judgment and why we must reflect thoughtfully as we go forward. PROOF found their way to a net-positive value add for all players involved – and now we hopefully have a bi-annual event to look forward to in which the stories of our favorite artists are told in ways that most artists cannot do for themselves.”
In a recent X space, Kane mentioned hopes for a potential pivot for the SuperRare RarePass. What might this look like?
He answered, “By 2020, it felt clear that SuperRare and a couple of others were leading the way in terms of writing articles, contextualizing artists and their work. And also telling the stories of collectors and others in the ecosystem.”
“How SuperRare went from being the leader in telling the story behind the crypto art revolution to having a masterpiece collection of 250 NFTs, like ‘Temporale’ by Sarah Zucker released as part of RarePass in April, and what critical elevation beyond a one-hour Twitter Space did it ever receive in reciprocity?” Kane added, “The work was just curated into SOURCE by Feral File, and Zucker has seen her work taken into the permanent collection of a major American art museum. I doubt many RarePass holders even know it.”
“I heard someone say ‘Contractual Obligations’ was like a punch to the face. Mike Tyson showed up in my Instagram feed the other day. He said not everyone we fight is our enemy and not everyone that helps us is our friend,” shared Kane, adding, “SuperRare is not my enemy. I want to see every player, not just SuperRare, evaluate the value-add they provide to artists, collectors, and culture versus what they’re extracting.”
Kane posed a question to these players: “What’s your role in the career of the artists you represent, or do you not see yourself as representing us? If you set the expectation back in the day of what you see your role is for artists and then have pivoted, tell us what that new role is so that we can make a better-informed choice. So much in ‘Contractual Obligations’ is a mirror, including the element of broken expectations.”
Kane added, “Artists, collectors, curators, platforms, everyone needs to keep the conversation going in terms of what value adds they expect to see and why it’s important.”
“Crypto art is defined and redefined by the community over time. If any of us are not down with how crypto art has been redefined, we need to speak out,” he shared, adding, “For their part, allowing me to proceed with ‘Contractual Obligations’ is a huge statement for how pro-art SuperRare actually is.”
“I’m positive other platforms would have shut it down, Kane said, exclaiming, “That should not go uncelebrated. I took a risk. They took a risk. In the last few days, SuperRare announced artists will have 250MB to upload artwork files on their NFTs. This is a good direction. I hope there’s more to come.”
Contractual Obligations: Act 1.069
For observers and collectors who have taken a closer look at the traits accompanying the art in ‘Contractual Obligations,’ they might have noticed one labeled “Act 1,” or as Kane would refer to it, in true crypto art fashion, “Act 1.069.”
While the collection has only been live for a few days, many have already asked, “When Act 2?” We did as well, but more so seeking information about the trait.
Kane shared, “I think two days after the release, I pointed out we’re in Act 1.069, for the culture and also because I’m a generative artist that should be using floating number precision in order to keep to what might be perceived as my style. All kidding aside, just do the math.”
“The token is called $CANDY. I called it out as a performance. Look at what ‘Gazers’ does with special dates. This is the month of October. What are the implications? Extrapolate,” he hinted, adding, “Now I’m leading a horse to water, but it’s appropriate since some of us are equivocating artists with racehorses.”
He added, “The whole roadmap of the performance is already in front of you, scattered across the realms that make up crypto art.”
In addition to the “Act 1” label, there is also a “Low Effort” label and other various indicators of applied effort. Some have clearly taken this literally.
Kane replied, “Maybe they take everything literally in Memphis, Tennessee, ‘but I’m from Hollywood.’ Big love to Memphis; that line is from an old Andy Kaufman — Jerry Lawler routine. My childhood dream was to grow up and be a comedian on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ That was back in the Phil Hartman days. Andy Kaufman is the artist and comedian who posthumously stomped on these dreams by introducing me to all that art could be.”
“At the time, I understood comedy, but I didn’t understand art beyond the concept of superficial illustration,” he continued. “Kaufman was one of the artists that bridged that gap for me. A challenge I’ve had is how do I ever honor Kaufman beyond just telling that story – you only see it right now because I wanted it to be as explicit as many NFT projects make their roadmaps. Even my statement there. What am I trying to tell you?”
“But to answer your question – it’s funny to me how effort with art is discussed and sometimes even valued,” Kane said. “That ‘low effort NFTs’ are a thing — it makes me smile. That trait, ‘Effort’ in ‘Contractual Obligations,’ is a funhouse mirror. To quote Satoshi: ‘If you don’t believe me or don’t get it, I don’t have time to try to convince you, sorry.'”
In recent days, one collector expressed they felt they were being made fun of and asked Kane if this was an aspect he even considered when creating “Contractual Obligations.” We asked Kane if he considers the feelings of collectors as he creates new works and if other artists should.
He said, “For every single collector who has complained, I have 20 more DMs thanking me for making ‘Contractual Obligations’ and encouraging me to not back down. 20 to 1? I like those odds.”
Kane expressed, “The show will go on. I knew that ‘Contractual Obligations’ were holding a deeply layered, dimensional mirror up to anyone who takes the time to enter into it. We don’t always like what we see in a mirror, let alone a mirror maze that might distort or make hyperbole.”
“If we never stop and put ourselves in another person’s shoes, well – isn’t that how we get to a Pass that compensates artists that make three unique artworks versus 250 unique artworks the same exact way? One year, we’re luring artists to come make NFTs with the promise of lifetime royalties, and the next year, we’ve rugged them all,” Kane said. “We need to think about how our choices and the direction we’re taking affect others.”
“Of course, I knew some people might not understand ‘Contractual Obligations.’ Not everyone agrees on what art can be or should be,” he said, adding, “Apparently, not everyone agrees on what ‘getting a Matt Kane’ means. Not everyone takes the time to evaluate the artwork, read the collection description, or evaluate the traits. I made clear this is a performance and that ‘Contractual Obligations’ is Act 1. Stay in your seats, I said. I can’t help you. You’re free to do as you choose on the blockchain.”
Advising other artists, Kane said, “Artists should always trust their own vision and interests over the opinions of others,” adding, “If you’re an artist, you’re an artist because you’ve got taste, skills, and things to say. The best medium to express what you have to say within a particular context is not always what’s expected – but it is what’s required of great art.”
What about the common belief that art eliciting a reaction is “good?” He replied, “It’s not my place to say what is good art or bad art, valuable art or valueless art. I just focus on knowing what art is, beyond just the superficial, and what resonates with me.”
He added, “Each of us brings our own experiences to an artwork. Our interpretations should vary. Often, if we look at an artwork some years later, the experiences we have during that time might change how we see it again. Even just waking up tomorrow could change how we view the same artwork. We live in an increasingly homogenized world, and yet our human experiences color that world completely differently from one person to the next.”
The “Low Effort” Art
Curious about the process of creating the “low effort” art of “Contractual Obligations,” we asked Kane how many outputs were generated before he selected the final 250 examples.
He shared, “The AI application I utilized read about 5,000 outputs by the end, so with four images per output, that’s 20,000 images, give or take.”
Speaking to the criteria for selection, he said, “I had a variety of concepts which didn’t make the cut. In the end, I had enough material for a much larger collection,” adding “250 is a small number relative to creativity. I trust my own instincts and readings of the work in terms of what I curated.”
With AI being used to generate the images, we were curious if Kane also extended this medium to naming each work and their traits — to which he replied, “The names, traits, and curation are all by me, a human being.”
In recent days, Kane highlighted a particular work from the collection, “Shifting Perspective.” We asked if this particular work represented anything special to him.
He shared, “As a collector pointed out, ‘Shifting Perspective’ references the all-seeing eye on the back of the dollar, which is also in my artwork ZERO that used a dAPP as an artistic medium.”
“I personally really like this artwork because it echoes a phrase in the collection’s description – ‘Fax mentis indium gloriae,’ which loosely translates as ‘The torch of the mind lights the path to glory,’ So while we don’t see any flames in this image, the implication is that the child shifting their perspective is lighting a blaze within their mind,” Kane expressed, adding “But that’s just one reading of it – there’s no wrong answer to how you come to this and where it takes you.”
“Here For The Community 5” is a work that made us stop and think for a bit, particularly on why Kane made the subject a child instead of an adult figure.
He shared, “There are larger global issues that this work grapples with beyond the crypto space. The meaning of these images is intentionally ambiguous. I’ve heard one collector suggest the children lit the fires and that I’m commenting on the maturity of the space.”
“Among other readings, the ‘Bad Actors’ miniseries can suggest the innocents and those with less power that are affected by bad actors of all scales, whether it be crypto, war, art, whatever,” shared Kane, adding, “It’s the most vulnerable among us that are often the most affected by bad actors – and still tasked with creating a future out of what is sometimes left in ruins. That we live in a world in which children are left parentless by acts of terrorism – it’s horror at all scales.”
Another noticeable theme in “Contractual Obligations” is the more obvious message of “burning bridges” — as many of the works feature literal burning bridges.
Kane said, “Burning bridges is something I grew up hearing my parents warn over and over again never to do. But it can become necessary to burn a bridge. And sometimes, we discover the things we grew up learning are wrong. We must be free to detour.”
Carrying On The Revolution
In a recent X space, when prompted on the crypto art revolution, Kane asked, “Is there even one anymore?” We asked what current participants in the space can do to ensure its continuance, to which Kane listed the following:
– Keep having conversations.
– Non-zero-sum ethos.
– Stop using crypto art interchangeably with NFTs.
– Pay attention to the difference between marketers and artists, PFPs and artworks.
– Reflect on.
– Name the things.
– Define and redefine.
In a note to “middlemen,” Kane said, “You often do things we cannot do for ourselves. You are our partners. Don’t think in terms of extraction and getting ahead on our backs. Don’t think of our art and labor as a means to your end. Think in terms of reciprocity, balance, and value-add. Our way forward together is serving mutual interests. Be respectful.”
A Note To All
In a note to anyone reading this article, Kane shared, “There will be an intermission to the performance held at ANONS on Tuesday, Oct. 17, featuring the auction for a Zombie ANON in my latest project. As part of the intermission, holders of ‘Contractual Obligations’ will receive an edition of my roadmap.”
Lastly, Kane leaves us with the opening lines from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby:”
In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.