By ALFRED STEINER October, 2022
On November 3, 2022, Erick Calderon (a.k.a. Snowfro) will be dropping his latest NFT collection—the aptly-named The Friendship Bracelet Project—on Art Blocks, the leading generative art NFT platform. Calderon created the collection in close collaboration with artist , who “aesthetically and programmatically designed” the project’s artwork.
Friendship Bracelets will be a free mint for anyone who owned an Art Blocks NFT as of 3:00 pm Central Time on October 26, 2022, and will include a do-it-yourself, physical component: illustrated instructions for weaving a friendship bracelet using “a spectrum of standard embroidery floss colors.” André and Calderon created the generative art project with the goal of “represent[ing] digital artwork in the form of a physical object with meaning, but no inherent value.”
André and Calderon are offering Friendship Bracelets as “a token of special friendship”—an antidote to what some see as a primarily profit-driven ethos of NFT culture, instead emphasizing “accessibility, inclusivity, and connection.” Some might quibble that this gesture rings hollow because the NFTs are available only to Art Blocks owners. But with Art Blocks NFTs starting at 0.02 Ether (currently, roughly $25.00) on OpenSea, it’s a relatively low hurdle for anyone who has already cleared the substantial obstacles to buying an NFT. (For me, that included opening a Coinbase account, linking it to my bank, converting dollars to Ether, waiting seven to ten days before I could withdraw the Ether, downloading and installing MetaMask, creating and filing away my seed phrase, transferring Ether from Coinbase to MetaMask, connecting MetaMask to OpenSea, and “signing” a transaction using MetaMask, which I recall looking like gobbledygook at the time.)
Because there are approximately 250,000 Art Blocks NFT owners, to avoid exorbitant transaction fees (or “gas wars” in NFT parlance), claimants will have until January 10, 2023 to mint their Friendship Bracelets. Each Art Blocks owner will be entitled to mint two Friendship Bracelets NFTs, which—like most other NFTs—will be freely tradeable on the secondary market. Like other Art Blocks projects, Friendship Bracelets will carry a 7.5% royalty on secondary market sales.
Calderon, who created the iconic Chromie Squiggle, founded Art Blocks nearly two years ago and remains its CEO. Friendship Bracelets is Calderon’s first project on Art Blocks since the Chromie Squiggle, which dropped roughly contemporaneously with Art Blocks’ founding.
I first spoke with Calderon at Consensus back in June, when Art Blocks announced its partnership with Pace Verso, the “web3 hub” of the global megagallery Pace, led by Ariel Hudes. At the time, Calderon (a Houston resident who was born in Mexico) confirmed that choosing Marfa, Texas as the home for Art Blocks was no coincidence, as he sees generative art as a successor to the programmatic work of artists like Donald Judd, who was responsible for putting Marfa on the Art World’s map. And even though some locals bristle at the association, there is little question that Art Blocks and the Chromie Squiggle embody much of what Judd laid out in Specific Objects (1965), if not the rigorously orthogonal, quintessentially modern sensibility expressed in his 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum. In Specific Objects, Judd focuses on “work which is neither painting nor sculpture” that “involves new materials, either recent inventions or things not used before in art,” and that “doesn’t involve ordinary anthropomorphic imagery.” In particular, Judd considers the work of John Chamberlain, which involves “more chance and casualness than order,” “aspects of neutrality [and] redundancy,” and “color[s]…, unlike oil colors, [with] a wide range.” Much of the work on Art Blocks meets these criteria, despite eschewing physical material for intangible bits. Of course, generative digital art has been around for a long time, it’s just that NFTs have allowed it to become an easily tradeable commodity.
Although Pace began talking with Calderon in early 2021, Art Blocks didn’t work with a Pace artist until January 2022, when they launched Leo Villareal’s Cosmic Reef, a natural extension of the artist’s software-intensive practice. But Villareal’s project predated the official June 2022 Art Blocks x Pace Verso announcement. Since then, Art Blocks x Pace Verso has dropped two collections: John Gerrard’s Petro National and Tara Donovan’s QWERTY. A third Art Blocks x Pace Verso collection, Loie Hollowell’s Contractions, mints tomorrow, October 28, 2022. Art Blocks x Pace Verso had originally scheduled A.A. Murakami’s Floating World Genesis to mint on September 15, 2022, but that happened to be the same day of Ethereum’s Merge (that is, its move from a proof-of-work to a proof-of-stake consensus mechanism), so the launch was postponed and is awaiting a new launch date.
Art Blocks has been so fabulously successful from a financial standpoint that it may come as a surprise to hear that “[f]or Art Blocks, NFTs … [aren’t] about the money at all.” According to my informal survey of the data, Chromie Squiggle, for example, has more secondary market volume than any other generative art NFT collection, at 55,000 Ether on OpenSea. With a 7.5% “creator fee,” that translates to roughly $8,250,000 in secondary market royalties (assuming a historical average of $2,000 Ether) from Chromie Squiggle alone. (For the past two years, Calderon has donated his October royalties from the project to charity.) Calderon can also mint the remaining 225 or so Chromie Squiggles at will, which have been selling on the secondary market for around 12.5 Ether ($18,500), leaving him with at least $4.2 million in dry powder; minting a new Chromie Squiggle carries the possibility of receiving a rare version, which typically carries a substantial premium in the NFT market.
Tyler Hobbs’s Fidenzas and Dmitri Cherniak’s Ringers (also Art Blocks projects) may have flashier floor prices (94 and 65 Ether, respectively, as of this writing), but perhaps because their designs lack the visual simplicity and ebullience of Chromie Squiggle, Calderon’s collection has become the most iconic generative work of the NFT era and a defining work of the early 21st Century. And it has a total market cap to match, at 1,280,000 Ether (or approximately $190 million, versus $141 million and $97 million for Fidenza and Ringers, respectively).
Calderon has a busy fall, as he’s also working on another digital x physical project—this one a luxury brand collaboration with 9dcc, a firm backed by NFT guru Gmoney. Known as Iteration-02, the project launches at Art Basel Miami Beach, barely two weeks after Calderon will have celebrated Art Blocks’ two-year anniversary in Marfa. According to its website:
“9dcc subscribes to the familiar ideals of historic luxury fashion houses and simultaneously reinterprets the codes of luxury and sophistication…. [T]he cryptic letter and number set represents the last four digits of the Ethereum wallet of the House from which all product expressions of the brand will be born.”
Not surprisingly, the promotional video for the project features an incarnation of the Chromie Squiggle—albeit in a horizontally-flattened format—which remains instantly recognizable to NFT initiates.
When not beset by hacks, forks, crashes, and exploits, the blockchain has established itself as reasonably useful for buying, selling, transferring, and securing digital artwork—functionality designed to assert ownership and exclude others, which is arguably at odds with the inclusive goal of The Friendship Bracelet Project. But even as the word “community” threatens to lose all meaning in the NFT space through incessant repetition, building communities of fans and enthusiasts may yet prove to be the NFT’s killer app.
Full disclosure: Snowfro owns one of my NFTs. WM
Alfred Steiner is an artist who lives and works in New York City. Steiner's artwork has been shown in one-person exhibits in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and abroad, and in group shows at The Drawing Center and Artists Space. Steiner is also a lawyer who advises clients on matters relating to technology, media and intellectual property, including NFTs.view all articles from this author