Art Blocks NFT Faithful Partied In Marfa As FTX Collapsed - Decrypt

Art Blocks NFT Faithful Partied In Marfa As FTX Collapsed – Decrypt

The world’s No. 2 cryptocurrency exchange had just filed for bankruptcy, its boy genius CEO had resigned, and millions upon millions of dollars were disappearing from his company’s wallets in real time with no explanation. But hundreds of miles from the noise of urban financial panic, in an old cattle feed mill in the West Texas desert, dozens of crypto culture makers bobbed their heads and waved their hands to a synchronized display of vibrating squiggles. 

The squiggles were Chromie Squiggles, the second explosively successful generative NFT art project from Art Blocks. To the delight and apparent awe of the barn’s occupants, these usually-static Squiggles were dancing for the first time, in sync with the ear-splitting tunes of English DJ Jamie xx. 

“Squiggle!” one reveler next to me kept yelling, as he raised his hands towards the vibrating monitors, jumping in place. “Squiggle, squiggle, squiggle, squiggle!”

“Pray to the squiggle!” his friend yelled giddily.

It was November 11, 2022, and 500 admirers had descended on the tiny town of Marfa, Texas, for Art Blocks’ second annual Open House—a gathering of collectors, artists, investors, and schmoozers involved in the company’s growing ecosystem.

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Art Blocks Open House in Marfa, Texas, November 2022. (Photo: Sarah M. Vasquez)

One might assume the vibes at an event centered around non-fungible tokens—which in the last two years have won obsessive devotees and furious haters in equal measure—would be deeply affected by the pulse of the crypto market. And yet, the FTX armageddon felt as far away from the gathering as any big-city happening back in the times when news was delivered by covered wagon.

That wasn’t because NFT people feel immune to market fluctuations. According to the event’s host, Art Blocks founder and Squiggles artist Erick Calderon (aka Snowfro), it was because the gathering, and his NFT company, have pretty much nothing to do with NFTs, and even less to do with crypto. 

“I used to say that I want Art Blocks as a platform to transcend crypto—you drop the word crypto, you drop the word generative, you drop the word NFT, and you just have art,” Calderon told me. “But we also want to transcend crypto.” 

As Calderon sees it, far too many companies in the crypto ecosystem hinge their value propositions on the novelty of underlying technology. Jogging—but earning crypto! Sweatshirts—but in the metaverse! Cat pictures—but make them NFTs! A mediocre TV show concept—produced by a DAO! 

This fixation, he believes, only temporarily obfuscates the deficiencies of a company’s product. 

“Why are we betting our companies on nascent technology? Companies don’t survive just on crypto,” Calderon said. “They survive on culture, and they survive on their teams. We’re trying to be an adult company. That means creating internal organizational culture, which is really hard to do in crypto, where everybody’s remote and hinging on the price of a CryptoPunk. But we fought so hard to isolate ourselves from that.”

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Erick Calderon (L) at the Art Blocks Open House in Marfa, Texas, November 2022. (Photo: Sarah M. Vasquez)

Art Blocks is a 40-person company and growing, despite the devastating effects of the crypto bear market. It now boasts a full curatorial team that carefully selects and admits digital artists to debut their collections on the company’s massively popular platform.

Calderon attributes Art Blocks’ enduring success to its refusal to indulge in practices that became standard for most NFT projects at the height of the speculative bubble in early 2022.

“The worst mental health state I’ve ever been in was when Art Blocks was going crazy in October,” he said. At that time, Art Blocks NFTs were selling for millions of dollars apiece. “People were like ‘you need a token, reward your collectors, you don’t care about your collectors unless you do a token, look what SuperRare is doing, look what Bored Ape Yacht Club is doing.’”

Art Blocks never offered a token, or exclusive perks, or any other vague gesture at that frequently fetishized but rarely realized principle of Web3: “utility.” 

It offered art, and publicly-accessible community spaces (both digital and physical) focused on art. It emphatically resisted the temptation to provide anything else. 

If Art Blocks sees itself not as a crypto or NFT company, but as an art institution, nothing showcased this better than its three-day gathering in the fabled art Mecca of Marfa. 

Marfa was founded in the 1880s, and for almost a century, looked no different from any other neighboring town populating the sparse Chihuahuan Desert; it rose to international prominence in the early 1970s, when renowned artist Donald Judd bought up a number of the town’s buildings and transformed them into contextless “anti-museums” f