Token Supremacy: The Art of Finance, the Finance of Art, and the Great Crypto Crash of 2022 (Hardcover)

Token Supremacy: The Art of Finance, the Finance of Art, and the Great Crypto Crash of 2022 By Zachary Small Cover Image
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A New York Times investigative reporter wades into the murky, pixelated waters of the multibillion-dollar NFT market—the virtual casino that sprang up overnight in 2020 and came crashing down, with all its celebrity hucksters, just two years later. A vibrant and witty exploration of the increasingly blurry line between art and money, artist and con artist, value and worthlessness.

“A perfect book to understand and to laugh at the craziness of the art world today." —Jerry Saltz, author of How to Be an Artist

In 2021, when the gavel fell at Christie’s on the sale of Mike Winkelmann’s Everydays series—a compilation of five thousand digital artworks—it made a thunderous announcement: Non-fungible tokens had arrived. The ludicrous world of CryptoKitties and Bored Apes had just produced a piece of art worth $69.3 million (at least according to the highest bidder). On that day, the traditional art market—the largest unregulated market in the world—put its stamp of approval on a very new and carnivalesque digital reality. But what did it mean for these two worlds to collide? Was it all just a money laundering scheme? And come on, what was that piece of digital flotsam really worth anyway?

In Token Supremacy, Zachary Small works through these and other fascinating questions, tracing the crypto economy back to its origins in the 2008 financial crisis and the lineage of NFTs back to the first photographic negatives. Small describes jaw-dropping tales of heists, publicity stunts, and rug pulls, before zeroing in on the role of "security tokens" in the FTX scandal. Detours through art history provide insight into the mythmaking tactics that drive stratospheric auction sales and help the wealthy launder their finances (and reputations) through art. And we cast an eye toward a future where NFTs have paved the way for a dangerous, new shadow banking system.

A wild and spellbinding tour through a world that strains belief.

About the Author

ZACHARY SMALL is an investigative reporter on the dynamics of power and privilege in the art world for The New York Times. Small has a master’s degree from The Courtauld Institute of Art in London and a bachelor’s in art history and political science from Columbia University. They live in Manhattan.

Praise For…

"In this deeply researched dive into NFTs, the people who make them, and the system that sold them, Zachary Small uncovers the truth behind one of the most dizzying follies of our time." —Town & Country ("The Best Books to Read This May")

Token Supremacy tackles a jargon-heavy episode of art market history with welcome clarity and arch humor . . . Small skillfully characterizes the fine line between discretion and duplicity at the highest echelons of the art world.” —Melanie Gerlis, Financial Times

"This masterful exposé enthralls." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This isn’t your parent’s art market . . . Small insightfully ties [NFTs'] focus on dollars to an evolution in the meaning of the word 'priceless.'" —Art Edwards, Book and Film Globe

"Anyone who has a genuine interest in modern-day digital art will learn something new from this story . . . Small’s book had me constantly surprised both by how similar the NFT art market is to what came before . . . If you are genuinely interested in NFTs, you’ll learn more about the artists that laid the foundation for NFTs to either successfully enter the space (or not). If you are genuinely opposed to NFTs as an art form and all that they stand for, Token Supremacy will give you some evidence-based ammunition to debate NFT degens the next time they wax poetic about the future of digital art. Take your pick." Blockworks, Molly Jane Zuckerman

"[A] meticulously documented exploration . . . Small profiles a diverse range of digital artists as well as other influential and often shadowy players across the finance, entertainment, tech, and gaming industries. They also expand the context with forays into pivotal movements in art history, a summary of the 2008 financial crisis, and the rise of the crypto economy. Throughout, Small sharply critiques the erosion of art collecting's prestige by sellers and investors driven by insatiable greed." Kirkus Reviews

"A fascinating tale about NFTs, the art market, and investment for curious readers . . . NFTs are a complicated subject that Small explains well, without oversimplifying." —Shmuel Ben-Gad, Library Journal

"A delirious chronicle of a deranged era." —Felix Salmon, Chief Financial Correspondent, Axios, and author of The Phoenix Economy

"A riveting dispatch from a digital dream world, Token Supremacy unravels the complexities and contradictions of a bubble in which venerable auction houses sold digital monkey cartoons for millions of dollars. Zachary Small doesn’t just laugh at the absurdity of NFTs—they bring the reader up close to the artists and hustlers who rode the wave to ridiculous fortunes and art-world fame." —Zeke Faux, author of Number Go Up

"A lot of cultural phenomena fall into the 'smile and nod' category—we hear about them, we read about them, we might even have opinions about them, but deep down we don’t really understand how they came about or what they mean. Zachary Small’s rip-roaring account of the NFT boom and bust is a path out of 'smile and nod' and toward true engagement. It shows us that any story about business and culture—as long as it is well told—is actually a story about people in all their flawed, ambitious, and curious glory." —Julia Halperin, former executive editor of Artnet News

"Zachary Small is the perfect, sardonic guide to the meteoric rise of NFTs and the dumpster fire sparked by their fall. Their gripping narrative pulls apart the NFT's unholy mixture of idealism and greed, squiggles and dick jokes, techno-utopianism and bug-ridden tech to reveal the kaleidoscope of ever-changing grifts produced by the latest collision of art and finance."
—Erin Thompson, author of Smashing Statues and art crime professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

"A rollicking journey through the phantasmagoric landscape of NFTs, cryptocurrencies, DeFi and art, with side jaunts into video games and the healthcare industry. Small manages to make the brain-muddling concepts behind all of these things not only legible to the average reader, but animated by a dizzying cast of characters . . . A fun read that proves the old chestnut: life really is stranger than fiction." —Sarah Douglas, editor in chief of ARTnews

“[A] gimlet-eyed chronicle . . . An alternately amusing and disturbing document of the personalities driving this strange chapter in the long history of art’s financialization.” The New Yorker

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593536759
ISBN-10: 0593536754
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: May 21st, 2024
Pages: 368
Language: English