On March 11 of this year, one of the most important auctions in recent years took place at Christie’s – in complete silence. There was no heated bidding, and nothing went under a noisy hammer, but large sums were still changing hands: the artist known as Beeple sold his work “First 5000 Days” for $69.3 million.
“It was the third highest price ever achieved by a living artist,” said Beatriz Ordovás, director of the postwar and contemporary art department at Christie’s Spain. This sale was a milestone not so much for the price, but for being the first time a major auction house had offered a purely digital work of art that would be paid for in cryptocurrency and auctioned online. The authenticity of Beeple’s work was guaranteed by a non-fungible token (NFT), a unique digital certificate that is linked to a file.
In a world where everything can be replicated with a simple copy-and-paste, NFTs lend uniqueness to an image, and endow it with exclusivity. “They function as a guarantee of authenticity,” Ordovás explained. Beeple’s work, a huge collage made up of 5,000 images made over the same number of days, may have artistic value, but it is the NFT associated with it that gives it economic value. Some see these assets as a revolution that will change the art world forever, while others denounce what they see as a bubble that will burst and leave nothing but a trail of smoke.
Before making history at Christie’s, the average value of a Beeple work hovered around $100. “Digital artists couldn’t sell their art like those working in the physical world. NFTs have ended that discrimination,” explained Primavera De Filippi, a researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society and the French National Center for Scientific Research. De Filippi has an optimistic view of the technology, and believes that it has enhanced the work of artists such as Beeple by replicating the limitations of the physical world to drive up prices: “NFTs have artificially created a form of digital scarcity and this enhances the value of a work,” she said. NFTs have introduced new artists to the art market, she believes, and also introduced new buyers.
The value of the digital art market grew by 299% last year, according to the NFT 2020 Report, and that is just the tip of the iceberg: the luxury market, video games, music and sports teams also want a piece. The first tweet by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey was sold in the form of an NFT for almost $3 million in March. A few days later, the Nyan Cat meme (a cat with a rainbow trail) reached $600,000. Singer The Weeknd sold a collection of music and videos last April for $2 million in the form of an NFT. Ozuna, Steve Aoki and other musicians have also jumped onto the bandwagon. St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum will photograph its works and tokenize them, selling off images that are in the public domain for thousands of dollars. Virtually any asset could be sold for an astronomical amount.
These NFTs are not bought with legal tender, but with cryptocurrencies, usually Ethereum, the currency of the Ethereum blockchain. Blockchain technology guarantees the veracity of transactions over the internet, and because of Ethereum’s central role in NFTs’ growth, its value has climbed more than 1,700% since the beginning of 2020. Many believe this growth is not organic.
“There is clearly speculation,” said Andrés Guadamuz, a professor at the University of Sussex and expert in digital intellectual property rights. “Many of us who have been watching this world have been caught by surprise by this fad,” he added, placing the tipping point at the beginning of this year and the sale of Beeple’s NFT.
The ever higher prices, however, are now starting to signs of an overheated market. Activity associated with NFTs has varied greatly across all trackable metrics. The number of people using NFT markets fell 80% from a peak of 650,000 at the beginning of the year to about 128,000 the first week of August. Sales volume was verging on an impressive $200 million last February, but interest dropped sharply in subsequent months, sitting at just $25 million in May, according to the Statista website. Some saw this as the death throes of NFTs, while others believed they only proved their extreme volatility. The market has ended up proving the latter opinion correct, as in August NFT sales set a new record ($206 million).
What happens next is anyone’s guess. “Ethereum is a very unstable cryptocurrency,” Guadamuz pointed out, “and as such the astronomical prices we are talking about are, to some extent, illusory.” The see-sawing prices of Ethereum and its lack of real-world uses pushes investors to make risky bets, which are increasingly disconnected from physical reality, like playing poker with Monopoly money. “This is very real,” disagreed the researcher Primavera De Filippi. “You can’t make a purchase with Ethereum, but you can exchange it for legal tender whenever you want. It’s like saying gold is a fictional asset because you can’t go buy bread with gold bullion.”
Speculation has been a part of collecting art long before NFTs came along. But the newness and unfamiliarity of the technology makes it much riskier. “Trading in new and relatively unknown instruments, such as NFTs, is not so much a form of investment as a bet,” said Jo Michell, Associate Professor of Economics at UWE Bristol. The gamble is risky because market trends are not driven by relatively predictable behavior such as a company going bust or the progressive career of an artist. “A lot of the action is driven by herd-chasing,” Michell added. But in the crypto-art herd, not all cattle are created equal. “The very wealthy are willing to spend lump sums of money on status tokens, such as NFTs,” said the economist. “This leads to other more humble investors imitating them.”
Another reason for crypto-art fever is less often considered: psychology. The emotional attachment we have to certain items, and the social status we imbue them with, affects our understanding of their value. Collecting is based on this process, from stamp collecting to the tulip mania bubble of 17th-century Holland, when tulip bulbs were sometimes traded for mansions, in the wildest example of how collecting can generate economic distortion.
Matt Stephenson is a PhD candidate at Columbia University and researches behavioral economics and NFTs from a psychological perspective. “People are excited about them because they have certain properties of the real-world objects that we’re used to,” he explained. “They are unique, can be owned, sold, destroyed and tracked over time. As a result, if an artist creates NFT art, it has the same properties as a traditional painting.
”The fact that people will pay millions for a NFT but not for a JPG file, which is also used to save digital images, says more about us than it does about the art market, Stephenson believes. “Cognitive psychology suggests that humans can distinguish between virtually identical objects based on an intricate set of socially accepted interests, beliefs and intentions,” he said. Value, therefore, has a strong social component.
In early May, Kyle Swenson’s Twitter feed started filling up with monkeys: monkeys in sunglasses, monkeys in Hawaiian shirts, monkeys in sailor hats, with frozen smiles and funny faces. It was all a little weird, Swenson thought, until the 25-year-old Florida salesman bought his own monkey avatar. He had joined the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a website selling NFT-linked avatars. The site launched on April 30 and put 10,000 images of primates up for sale. Each avatar, with a cartoon aesthetic and unique characteristics, went on the market for around $200. They disappeared within a day. Most users bought several to resell or exchange them. Today they can only be purchased second-hand on the Open Sea platform, and the cheapest one goes for about $45,000. While the rarest apes reach astronomical figures, more common specimens are more readily available. In a way, they are like baseball cards, only with a lot more money at stake.
Swenson has two Bored Apes, two Bored Ape Kennels, some Goatz, some Pudgy Penguins, some Alien Boys… These are all part of different NFT collections. Just as there were once soccer and Disney movie stickers at a newsstand, there are NFT collections of all kinds on the internet. The Bored Apes are the latest to catch on. The first, and most successful, were the CryptoPunks. One of these eight-bit images sold at Christie’s last May for nearly $17 million.
So why do people pay such exorbitant amounts? “From an artistic point of view, I would say they are a piece of crap,” stated Guadamuz bluntly. “But the value of the CryptoPunks is that they were the first.” De Filippi agrees with him, while recognizing their simplicity and tracing an avant-garde lineage. “It’s like [Marcel] Duchamp, who was the first to create ready-made works [everyday objects that were transformed into art only through their context]. That’s why his works have value, for being pioneering.”
The first rule of Bored Ape Yacht Club is simple: monkey see, monkey do. “Before I joined I barely had any followers on Twitter, now I have a couple thousand,” Swenson proudly confessed. The social component of NFT communities is important to collectors, as gaining status and making noise about your collectibles can drive up the price. Essentially, what makes you cooler sometimes makes you richer, too.
There are no yachts or monkeys, but the Bored Ape Yacht Club really functions as a social club. “When you buy a primate you join a community,” explained Swenson, who also founded the Bored Ape Gazette, the newspaper of record for this community. Stephenson confirmed that there is a large component of social psychology in the rise of these collectibles. “There’s definitely a fun, even childlike, feel to collecting NFTs,” he said. “And showing them to your friends, collecting the rare ones…is definitely part of the appeal.”
This expert believes that the success of NFT collectibles depends on what is now known as the attention economy. Stephenson’s own profile picture on Twitter is a monkey with a funny face, which means it’s easy to recognize him as one of the 10,000 avatars of the Bored Ape Yacht Club. It was a gift: “That’s why he has a birthday hat.” Stephenson, like many others, has joined the party. And it’s one that seems far from over.
Census 2022 – what difference does it make?
Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.
But what it is it all about?
At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.
The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.
The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.
Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.
Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.
And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.
Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture
Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.
At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.
During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.
When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”
He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.
During the commercial break, Will Smith is pulled aside and comforted by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, who motion for him to brush it off. Will appears to wipe tears from his eyes as he sits back down with Jada, with Denzel comforting Jada and Will’s rep by his side. pic.twitter.com/uDGVnWrSS2
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) March 28, 2022
The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”
On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.
House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022
House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.
Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.
The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.
Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.
This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.
MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.
It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.
“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.
“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.
“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.
“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.
He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.
Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.
Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.
The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.
“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”
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