By KURT MCVEY November, 2021
Polaroids of Metakovan by Justin Aversano
Vignesh Sundaresan, aka MetaKovan, the sharp and sweet 33-year-old South Asian gent who purchased the artist Mike Winklemann, aka Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5,000 Days (2021), a vast temporal mosaic of his digital illustrations executed over thirteen years, at Christie’s back in March for roughly 63 Million dollars with fees (around 42,329.45 Ether), has never stepped foot in a museum. He’s only been to one music concert (Skrillex). And he certainly has never been in the green-room of a (somewhat) storied concert venue like NYC’s Terminal 5. Until yesterday.
Opening today, November 4th, Terminal 5 will host “Dreamverse,” an exclusive music and digital art celebration and show. From 12pm to 4pm the multi-tiered venue will showcase the largest collection and NFT artwork by way of Sundaresan’s company, Metapurse, a “crypto-exclusive fund that specializes in identifying early-stage projects across blockchain infrastructure, finance, art, unique collectibles, and virtual estate.” Dreamverse will unveil the B5K (Beeple 5000) monument that has been quietly built in the metaverse (Decentraland) in a new structure called CryptoSouk. The structure has been designed by leading New York-based architecture firm Holly13. Attendees will be able to explore the monument virtually via VR Arcades and also in an experiential physical installation. From 8pm to 1am this evening, the party portion of the event will unfold, featuring a headlined DJ set by the Swedish DJ and producer Alesso, who will also be releasing his NFT series Cosmic Genesis, which “takes fans on an audiovisual journey through the cosmos.” Alesso will be supported by DJ sets from Eli Escobar and the legendary Stretch Armstrong, among others. Attendees can also look forward to an exclusive and potentially hallucinatory AR experience from Carsten Höller in collaboration with Acute Art. More info about the event can be found here.
“We are so excited to see what the Metapurse team has put together for this historic event,” says Mr. Winklemann (Beeple). “In real life, events like this are a great way to build a true, lasting community and we’re honored to be a part of this community.”
As a construction crew scrambles on the venue’s GA floor, toiling and zig-zagging with potted ferns while erecting several spiraling free-standing neon walls on which will hang dozens of “digital canvases,” MetaKovan settles into a crunchy, weathered leather couch in the venue’s backstage quarters. He’s joined by Twobadour, Metapurse’s “Steward” and several other members of his team. It’s clear however, that Mr. Sundaresan is the man of the hour, and despite the gravitas he carries by way of his now conspicuous crypto-whale-billionaire status, his insight, foresight and general enthusiasm quickly overtakes this monetary distinction.
“I feel like life definitely has been different since people started recognizing me as MetaKovan,” says Sundaresan, who would pride himself on his unassuming nature if pride could even be diagnosed, despite being surrounded by the cacophony of sounds which together articulate a multi-million dollar extravaganza in the making. “Usually, it's the reputation that precedes you. It’s a credit to that name. I don’t have to behave in a certain way when I meet people. When people meet me they ask, “Are you sure you’re MetaKovan?”
Though Sundaresan, educated as a coder and engineer, has never been in a museum (the offer was put forth to rectify this), as mentioned earlier, his language surrounding NFTs or non-fungible-tokens sounds similar to any reasonably well-versed human’s take on art in general. What Sundaresan (as MetaKovan) would have you know, is that his internet-breaking purchase of Beeple’s Everydays has very little to do with the work’s ability to appreciate in value (despite claiming after the purchase that the piece would and should now be valued at 1 billion US dollars, and that was in March) and everything to do with those good art feelings.
“Just to add a parenthetical,” says Twobadour, “we’ve never sold a single NFT to date.”
“I think the price appreciation was the least in our minds actually,” says Sundaresan, who was born in Chennai, India. “I never thought about it. Even now it almost doesn’t exist in my head. I approach the whole NFT space like that. It’s the end of the money cycle. When we look at art, I want to spend money on it, not invest in it. When you buy a coffee, you want to drink it, you don’t ask the coffee to be or act like something else. Art is an end in itself.”
MetaKovan, like many art critics and cultural commentators, understands that art, in any form, can be appreciated solely on its own merits, but it can also be a portal into process, individual human experience, an investigation of cultural or societal implications, and so on. It’s also meant to be enjoyed, not locked up and stored away. MetaKovan is quite aware of the institutional barriers that, well, institutions can place on underserved people, especially young people from disenfranchised communities or cultural deserts who are nevertheless interested in making, showing or experiencing art. A separate article could be written comparing India’s class strata to the stata-complex of the United States, and how physical, financial, spiritual and psychological barriers differ in magnitude. As the American fine art space further consolidates into greater institutionalization (academia, corporate [legacy] media, brick and mortar exhibition spaces) the NFT space is flourishing. MetaKovan also tries not to project his own metric of “good or bad” onto NFTs, which, admittedly, seems to be where traditional contemporary art has already arrived. An argument could be had over objective quality and how rare or abundant it is in the “metaverse” versus the “meatspace,” and one would assume curators, critics, collectors, artists and ticket-buying citizens together form some kind of immediate and perhaps even lasting consensus regarding what is valuable for mass consumption and what is not. One thing is certain; the need, want, pressure or desire to gate-keep critical “quality” in the NFT space-and here the writer is speaking for himself-could be described as a sort of playful indifference, which in many ways, is incredibly refreshing.
“With Beeple,” begins Sundaresan, “what touched me was that someone could be consistent for so many years and even become good at what they’re doing. I saw the labor in him. I saw all the criticism he received, but artists have their own path, like every human being. They learn, they reflect, they change. I don’t have to go telling people what they have to do and what they don’t have to do. So when I see something, when I connect, I’m happy about it.”
Sundaresan claims he received criticism himself, directly and indirectly, for spending such an exorbitant sum on Beeple’s work, which a handful of mainstream art critics felt was generally unworthy of praise, let alone the gargantuan bounty it commanded. Though individual NFTs, generally speaking, especially the popular ones, lack an overt political or social justice message (some certainly do), NFTs themselves, as a form, technology or community, do have an agenda, that being artists royalties, especially in secondary sales, transparency (via smart contracts especially), and access to a growing community and ecosystem that can connect independently from often oppressive local, national or international jurisdictions. Blockchain itself is largely about decentralization, but again, that’s a whole different story.
For Sundaresan, especially in the immediate lead-in and post sale window back in March 2021, he felt like many of Beeple’s daily works not only spoke to him personally, but in some ways referenced him directly. It’s exactly this immediacy and sense of personal connection that lends a sense of value, not just to Beeple’s works, but to NFTs in general.
“It was a very emotional three or four days,” recalls Sundaresan. “At that point, in the days after the sale, we weren’t talking on the phone but I felt like I could connect with him, especially when I was receiving so much criticism. When people were tearing me apart in my own way, this really connected with me. It’s been such a learning experience.”
Sundaresan, like many entrepreneurs in the virtual and digital realms, not least of all Mark Zuckerberg, who recently announced Facebook’s rebranding as Meta and quite transparently as a blatant bad-press and corporate pressure PR swerve, spends his days thinking about how the metaverse is going to make a change in the world. “Most interesting is its ability to make a friend,” Sundaresan says, perhaps surprisingly. “You go in the metaverse and you make a friend, like gaming. It’s fun. On Twitter, for instance, this could be hard.”
Chennai, India, as far as visual or fine art, could be classified as “underserved,” though its music and performance scene is vibrant and culturally potent. Growing up, Sundaresan was unable to stand in a museum, connect over the enduring ice-breaker that is a physical art object with objective consensus power, and make a friend in that world, because “proximity defines prosperity to an extent,” he says. “Information flows that way, with cultural exposure. What’s new, what’s trending, the time it takes for that information to reach a different part of the world, it takes too long. In the metaverse, you can meet someone without an agenda and in real time, anytime, from anywhere, and engage directly with their work.”
Though he’s only been to one concert, MetaKovan understands the importance of being together, “in-concert,” as it were etymologically, and how COVID-19 and our geo-political barriers and mandates have kept us apart from one another, perhaps for reasons beyond public health. Dreamverse is an opportunity to boldly connect and reconnect, in person and in the flesh. “With all those relationships that happen in the metaverse, Dreamverse could be so interesting because a lot of these people have not met physically, but they’ve already formed this bond. I often hear the phrase in this community: “I feel like I already know you.”
A huge inspiration to Dreamverse is Tomorrowland, a Belgian electronic dance music festival held in Boom, Flanders, Belgium since 2005. “Two people from Belgium in a small village with a small economy built this festival from a thousand people to 400,000 people,” notes Sundaresan. “The direct economic impact is 50 million (USD) and indirect is more than 100 million (USD). The difference between us, however, is we don’t have one physical space. Everywhere is our space. Going forward, I want to see how we can connect with local bands, artists and businesses. We could go to Atlanta for instance. Maybe we do a few in the US at first. It’s not easy to do a concert in the middle of a forest, I imagine, but doing this here in New York City in this great venue gives us the experience and chance of doing it right the first time.”
For Sundaresan and his symbiotic alter-ego or avatar, MetaKovan, life has moved quickly since the Beeple sale, in fact, one could say it’s rapidly accelerating across many vectors and dimensions. Despite this whirlwind, he’s been able to stop and appreciate the conscious nature of artists. “With everything they do,” he says, “they think about consequence. I like to think about the consequences of design. I’m definitely in a very different place from where I was in March. I’ve been working with a lot of different collectives from all over the world with different skill sets. When they come together and are supported on a basic level, they create a magical NFT. This connection to these cultures all over the world could be great for the world.”
MetaKovan sees NFTs as native cultural exports, allowing creators across the globe to participate in the global economy. It’s in enabling these bridges that lives at the core of his mission and that of the larger Metapurse team, which Sundaresan is quick to celebrate. It’s also where he finds the most joy. “NFTs are many things to many people,” he says. “I cannot give you a one-liner. It does a great job of capturing the art of the moment. A story can be captured in an NFT. If you are someone who is a creator, and you’re interested in making something that could be saved in this world forever on a global ledger, make it an NFT.” WM