Since its announcement last week, The Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) Postcard project, powered by digital art wallet provider Autonomy, has been the talk of the web3 space.
Designed to be an experiment in collective creativity, the project tapped 15 different artists to participate in its launch. Each artist received a “Postcard” comprising 15 blank stamps, allowing them to each pick a theme for their Postcard and then collaboratively work together to produce its associated stamps.
While the project is labeled an “interactive NFT adventure,” some collectors were confused about why there was no mint following the reveal of the artists’ Postcards, and others were unsure how they might participate. However, the project is not meant to be a one-off drop but instead an ongoing and evolving experiment.
Coupled with yesterday’s (Oct. 11) announcement of MoMA’s historic acquisition of Refik Anadol’s “Unsupervised – Machine Hallucinations – MoMA,” as the first tokenized artwork in its permanent collection, excitement is growing about the museum’s multi-prong embrace of web3.
We conducted exclusive interviews with MoMA, Autonomy, and all 15 participating artists to learn more about what the project entails and gain insight into its future. We also tried our hand at creating a Postcard and documented the process below.
Closer Look With MoMA
Speaking on the collaborative nature of the project, MoMA Web3 Associate Madeleine Pierpont shared, “MoMA Postcard is a global community project. An experiment in collective creativity on blockchain, it invites anyone to collaborate, learn, and experiment with web3 technologies.”
She explained, “The design, meaning, and value of each Postcard is entirely defined by those who participate. Starting as a blank canvas, each Postcard works like a digital chain letter. Once a person claims a blank Postcard, they become the first stamper.”
She continued, “The first stamper designs a stamp within a 10×10 pixel grid, signs the stamp, and then sends that Postcard to another person. The next person receives this card, designs a stamp, signs it, and then sends it to a third person. This process repeats until all 15 stamps have been placed. Postcards are designed in the Autonomy wallet and can be sent via any major messaging medium.”
Now live! Explore 15 artist-designed NFT postcards kicking off the upcoming launch of MoMA Postcard → https://t.co/Ei8iR9AVK1— MoMA The Museum of Modern Art (@MuseumModernArt) October 3, 2023
🧵 Explore some of the first pieces:
While many have been hopeful of minting or owning a MoMA Postcard, Pierpont explained that the first “MoMA Postcard First 15,” which went live October 3, was designed to be a showcase of sorts and kick off the project. Each of these cards is co-owned by all 15 participating artists.
However, she explained that MoMA will be “releasing a limited number of Postcards for people to claim each day until the full launch of MoMA Postcard — when anyone and everyone will be able to mint their own.”
Further explaining when an interactive or collaborative element was important for the project as opposed to an easy click-and-mint collectible, Pierpont said, “MoMA Postcard is about community and the power of blockchain as a tool for global community building.”
She continued, stating, “A robust, rich, and constantly dialoguing network of communities has built up around blockchain. The community and the conversation are organic, in part because people can show up as they choose to. Extrinsic identity with blockchain is wholly self-wrought. The individual and the collective sit in unique conversation with one another in web3, and we wanted to be reflective of that. Each stamp represents the individual, while the postcard represents the work of a 15-person collective.”
“By the same token — no pun intended — it is also about creating a dialogue within and among communities. There is still a vast swath of the public who do not know what blockchain is, who have negative perceptions of blockchain, or who are too overwhelmed by the complexities to learn more.” Pierpont explained.
She added, “By creating an accessible project that requires collaboration, we hope to inspire people to work together in learning more, experimenting, and conversing across boundaries about blockchain and web3.”
Taking this community aspect to the next level with the help of Autonomy, MoMA has provided a highly interactive experience for Postcard creators. As the Postcard is shared from one wallet to the next – which can be done via text – for individual stamp creation, co-creators and owners can stay updated on progress in real-time and even see what city the creation is taking place in.
Co-creators who choose to use this optional feature will contribute to the overall mileage calculator that shows the distance between one stamp and the next – as shown in the example from the First 15 below.
Pierpont added, “Stampers can also peruse a leaderboard of cards, which features the current top 50 jet-setting cards by mileage. The leaderboard also offers a dynamic view of the top 50 cards, where participants can click into each Postcard to see where it has traveled and view close-ups of stamps.”
She further shared, “The hope is that each Postcard can act as a micro-community within the context of the broader MoMA Postcard community; inside each Postcard is also an encrypted chat room only accessible by you and your fellow co-creators.”
Inspiration and Process
Diving into the details of early inspiration and the process behind building the MoMA Postcard project, Pierpont explained, “Although this dynamic has evolved quite a bit in the last three years, there still exists chasms between the general public, the art market as it may be traditionally defined, and the web3 space – whether that be in understanding, bias, or interest.”
“Perhaps the greatest roadblock here is creating accessible and easily digestible resources and tools,” she said, adding, “MoMA Postcard began in trying to solve for this in a meticulously intentional way, with respect to the community that is building on blockchain and for other communities that know little about it.”
She added, “We endeavored to create something that echoed the unique spirit of the blockchain ecosystem, that highlighted some of the fundamental principles of blockchain technology, and that offered an accessible space to explore and learn. This is really where the co-creation concept originated.”
“Accessibility also doesn’t have to mean abstracting or stripping away core layers. The Autonomy wallet is fully self-custodial and that was really important to us, where others are taking a different approach,” Pierpont expressed.
“Secondly and simultaneously, many view NFTs as hyper-financialized. Some may disregard them because of that, and they miss out on learning about the innovative art that is being created with blockchain tools — in my opinion, some of the most innovative contemporary art and artists that exist today,” she said, adding, “The goal was to create a project that instead emphasized the community, the technology, and the possibilities. This is where the co-ownership concept originated.”
“In starting with the working principles above, we brainstormed,” Pierpont explained, adding, “I was then exploring MoMA’s mail art collection one day, and it occurred to me that Postcards are perhaps one of the most democratic modes of communication. MoMA Postcard sprouted out of this convergence of ideas.”
The collaboration required from Postcard participants is a core element of the project, with its creation requiring collaboration from “different time zones and countries from start to finish, in ideation and execution, across the MoMA and Bitmark teams,” Pierpont said.
While concepts and objectives are always easier to envision in theory, putting them into practice can be another thing. Pierpont explains, “The most difficult technical challenge arose from the question, ‘How can you give someone an NFT?’ We have been iterating on this since we launched the Memento series with Refik Anadol last November.”
This generally requires two things, a wallet, and crypto to mint the token in question, and while this might sound straightforward to intermediate and veteran participants of the Web3 space — it can still be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated, particularly the installation of a wallet and presentation of its associated pneumonic seed phrase.
To this point, Pierpont said, “We felt a non-technical person needed to be able to tap a link on their phone and participate in making a Postcard. Everything besides those steps was just added friction,” she added, “Our goal was for people to finish their Postcard with a real web3 wallet, in control of their private keys, and to be excited about what is possible with blockchain. That is what we have built with Autonomy.”
Technicals From Autonomy
Here’s a look at the Postcard process from start to finish, courtesy of Autonomy.
Quoting the step-by-step thread Autonomy shared on X, the process works as follows:
Minting the Postcard:
“The journey begins with minting a blank MoMA Postcard. A limited number of Postcards are made available daily, accessible via a QR code or a direct link. To activate your Postcard, follow the set instructions on the Autonomy app. You’ll be guided to download the app if you don’t already have the app.”
Design and Signature:
“Once your Postcard is activated, it’s time to unleash your creativity. Utilizing MoMA’s designated color palette, you can create a pixel art stamp on your Postcard. Upon completing your design, you’ll be prompted to sign your artwork.”
Stamping and Fractional Ownership:
“This stage is where your stamp gets minted and securely pinned to the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), marking the initiation of your fractional ownership of the Postcard. Post signing, the Postcard evolves into an FA2 contract where your stamp symbolizes your ownership token. The Postcard allows fifteen stamps, implying fifteen potential owners.”
“With your stamp added, it’s time to involve others in this artistic journey. You have the liberty to invite anyone to co-create with you. The Postcard can be shared through various mainstream messaging platforms like WhatsApp, SMS, or Instagram. The cycle repeats from steps 1 to 4 until all fifteen stamps have been creatively filled in on the Postcard.”
“You have a 24-hour window to stamp the Postcard, post which it returns to the last sender if not completed. Although not obligatory, prompts help provide a coherent direction to each card. An encrypted chat feature in the Autonomy app enables direct communication between co-creators. This feature can be utilized to designate a prompt, fostering a collaborative spirit among the participants.”
Chatting With the Artists
To provide the most well-rounded insight into what it was like for these artists to participate in the project’s launch, we spoke with all 15 MoMA Postcard artists.
Sasha Stiles shared, “I can honestly say this project has been some of the most fun I’ve had in web3 so far, and it has to do both with the people involved and the profound simplicity of the interface.” She added, “At a time when it’s easy to get carried away by the proliferation of creative platforms and trendy tools, MoMA Postcard is a poetic constraint: how imaginative can you get via a 10×10 pixel grid? How many different ways can a group of 15 friends interpret the same prompt? How does collaboration inspire novel ideas and take everyone involved on a meaningful journey? The concept is quite brilliant as a meta-exploration of how tech-art tools from blockchain to generative AI can unlock new modes of expression.”
While Casey Reas shared that the project is “collaborative to the core,” IX Shells said that it reminded her of playing early Massive Multiplayer Games (MMO’s), and Grant Yun expressed that “each step of the way has been inspiring.”
With each participating artist having vastly different practices, each with its own complexities, we were curious to know how their process changed due to the simplistic nature of the tools provided and their associated restrictions.
The overarching theme in their responses indicated that many started off overthinking the stamps, but as they collaborated, they began to have fun and enjoyed the positive challenge of changing their process and adhering to the prompt put out by Postcard leads.
Linda Dounia said, “As professional artists, it’s easy to see work as work when it could be played. This project was a nice reminder to play more often.”
As for “Ringers” creator Dmitri Cherniak, he shared, “It changed a lot. I tried to write custom software to generate the stamps as often as I could to highlight my practice of automation as an artistic medium, but sometimes it just didn’t work out, and I had to adapt.
Others like Osinachi shared that the project made them shift from their comfort zone, while artists like Peter Burr described the process throughout the project as similar to quicksand.
He shared, “During this project, the foundational software and technology were continuously changing. At times, it felt as if we were working in quicksand, which only solidified once the project was launched last week. This is part of what draws me to being a new media artist – trying to make something in an evolving medium to produce images I’ve never seen before. The output is hidden in a cloud until the day it is finished.”
With MoMA Postcard being a dynamic and evolving project, we asked “The First 15” what they most look forward to as it unfolds.
Most of the artists shared that they’re looking forward to seeing what creatives can do with the tools they’re given, with artist Anna Lucia stating, “We were the first 15 artists to interact with the project but probably barely scratched the surface of what is possible, I’m looking forward to being surprised with what other people come up with.”
Others, like Sarah Friend, shared, “Constraints can sometimes paradoxically foster creativity and experimentation. Just from the few begun so far, since launch, there have already been some exciting responses.”
Additionally, artist ykxotkx shared, “I look forward to seeing more and more MoMA Postcards created by many people. I think it’s great that the museum has made this project available to the general public.”
Proposing some food for thought, LoVid said, “We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of variation is possible, both within individual stamps and within each Postcard. Will the public be interested in more ‘themes’ or curated Postcards, and what will those be? Will the Postcards be a chance for friends or strangers to co-own and co-create? What will the response be of the general public and artists from outside Web3? What cultural significance will the first 15 hold in the long term?
Lastly, we asked the artists what hopes they had, if any, regarding the public’s perception of the project, be that the web3 community or the overarching general art community as a whole.
Many shared hope for greater exposure and adoption of web3 that the project will act as a foundation for stronger communities, but most importantly, that participants have fun with it.
Artist Operator shared, “I hope people realize that there is more to blockchain and crypto art than what they normally read about in headlines.”
Others like Reas said, “I hope this escapes web3 and also the art community; I hope it’s something everyone feels like they can do. MoMA has a massive international audience,” putting forth the question of “What would it mean to create something that really connects?”
Yard added her thoughts, stating, “I hope for a deeper understanding of the relationship between artists, art, and technology. To help others connect and feel through each other’s eyes. For me, designing applications on the blockchain provides both artists and audiences with a sense of space, accessibility, direction, and transparency, fulfilling the essential elements required for genuine expression.”
She continued, adding, “I hope that these new rooms created at institutions like MoMA help the world of art embrace a shift from what was once static art to a medium alive with dynamic changes.”
Trying It Out
MoMA allowed us to try out the process, and we were given a QR code that enabled us to start on our Postcard via the Autonomy app. We were creating within a few short clicks and after checking out a short walkthrough.
To keep things fun, with the prospect of potentially opening up stamp creation to some of you, we decided to go with the theme of “GM” — which can be expressed literally through lettering as we have, or as figuratively as a cup of coffee.
Take a look at the process below, all of which was done on the iPhone in a matter of minutes — a very fun 20-some minutes, to be exact.
As we continue to put our Postcard together, we’ll keep you updated on progress and potential participation opportunities via our social channels.
What to Expect Next
As the project is slated to continue to its next stage soon, we asked Pierpont what interested participants can expect.
“This is an evolving initiative that, in the spirit of Postcard co-creation, will be guided by its participants,” she said. “During the public launch, we will release an interactive and dynamic online bulletin that features all stamps and all Postcards being created around the globe, updated in real-time.”
Pierpont added, “As the initiative evolves, we also aim to create specific on-site and online activations around the Postcards, which will add further layers of interactivity and community engagement. It is also an open conversation. If people have thoughts, ideas, hesitations…we are all ears. Just as each Postcard embarks on its adventure around the world, MoMA Postcard is an adventure in its own right.”
Sharing a word on what’s been the most rewarding aspect of the MoMA Postcard project to date for her, Pierpont said, “The people. It has been rewarding to build together with an incredible team that creates with intention, with grace, and with persistent optimism. Likewise, it has been an honor to work with the amazing first 15 artists, whose brilliance and creative perspectives are of limitless inspiration.”
Speaking about the overarching goal of the project, Pierpont said, “The hope is that this project can be a stepping stone in fostering greater dialogue between and among communities and one that helps facilitate expanded connections around blockchain technology and the web3 ecosystem at large. MoMA Postcard is also just plain fun. And we hope people have fun with it.”