Blockchain-based platform founders meet Renee Cox and gallerist Hannah Traoré to discuss collaboration, royalties and why creatives can’t work for free
“When you have been working for 30 years, it is imperative to keep up to date! says Renee Cox, American multi-hyphenate artist. “I want my work to rule the world and have this world created by me.”
We are talking on Zoom with a few others. There is Hannah Traoré, the twenty-year-old founder of hers eponymous art gallery. Based on the Lower East Side, its mission is to champion creators historically excluded from the mainstream cultural narrative. “I realized that not only do I care extremely much about these communities,” she says, “but if I have the opportunity to be the person that these artists can work with and feel safe with, then I should do it.”
Then there’s Max Kendrick and Charlie Jarvis: a former diplomat and a freshly graduated computer scientist, respectively. They are co-founders of Fair chain—“a title management, authentication, and transaction platform for the fine arts, organized around a high-impact social mission,” according to its website. In other words, Fairchain works with artists and galleries to create digital certificates of title and authenticity, tracked through blockchain technology. If a work changes hands, the certificate will only be transferred after its new owner agrees to pay a pre-determined percentage of the sale to the original creator, and possibly to the gallery that listed the work in the first place .
Cox, who currently presents soul cultivation at the Hannah Traore Gallery – an exhibition of deconstructed three-dimensional portraits merging photography and collage – is among Fairchain’s first class of prominent supporters, joining the ranks of Frank Stella, Hank Willis Thomas, Laurie Simmons and more. She recalls a recent survey, where she was asked to do a charity in exchange for donating one thousand dollars to a charity of her choice. “When did I tell you I wanted to be a philanthropist?” she remembers wondering. “I said, ‘Yes, of course. Donate to the RVC Foundation’—my full name is Renee Valerie Cox. How can you ask artists, during a scary pandemic lockdown, to donate their money? »
It’s part of a long-standing tradition: a right, a distorted assumption, that figures the creative can and should produce work for free. More insidiously, it extends to systems in which artists are forced to give up control and rights the moment something they have made sells. You think of “Amen Break,” one of the most sampled tracks in hip-hop history, written by Gregory C. Coleman in 1969. He never touched royalties, dying homeless in the early 1960s. 2000. Or the controversial practice of the collector’s “reversal” – a clean art profile remember Rauschenberg was seething with Robert Scull in 1973, a millionaire who made tens of thousands of dollars in profit by auctioning off a work he originally bought for $900: “For God’s sake, you didn’t didn’t even send flowers!” shouted the artist.
Jarvis recalls meeting Cox about a year ago, when Fairchain was just getting a foothold: “As soon as we started talking, she brought up the example of SAG and how the actors had unionized to create the conditions for better treatment.” She then asked Cox why something similar hadn’t happened for visual artists.
“We’re a bit disjointed [as a community]“replies Renee. “Everyone is spreading out and doing their own thing. All these conversations—’How much do you charge for reproduction? How do you manage a gallery? How do you arrive at your prices? – you end up having none with your colleagues. Some of that might be intentional, because of this competitive little thing that exists. But at the end of the day, I don’t think it really serves the purpose of the visual artist. It’s about getting them to come together, basically.
“We see the opportunity to be really intentional about how technology influences this industry and to make sure it’s a standard we believe in.”
Kendrick goes on to clarify that Fairchain is for all creatives, not just newcomers, not just mid-career, not just established people. “What Hannah is doing is fantastic, in that she’s actively dealing with these artists with practices that have been overlooked, or haven’t been given the attention and attention they deserve,” he said. “One of the things we’re focusing on is the idea that this mission is for all artists. To survive is not to be taste makers, but [to be] support the voices that are emerging and resurfacing today, [as well as] those we have not learned to identify. In fact, we don’t know what the underrepresented and outsourced voices of tomorrow are. »
Cox has always been an artist at the forefront of new technologies. soul culture, she says, references Afrofuturism, shaping “a sacred space where blacks and browns are part of the matrix,” their likenesses embedded in the fractal shapes created by the artist. “[The works produce] layered texture and illusory vignettes,” reads the gallery’s press release, “creating an alternate universe and metaverse where black people retain control over their representation.”
Control, it seems, is the key word in this whole conversation: control over artists’ livelihoods, over their image as cultural figures, over the work they create and over what it happens once it leaves their field of competence. Paradigms are changing – we can only hope that when the dust settles, the most vulnerable groups will be protected, so they can continue to produce meaningful work for good. “We see the opportunity to be really intentional about how technology influences this industry and to make sure it’s a standard we believe in,” says Jarvis. Traoré continues: “I really believe that Fairchain is the future. Always having the artist, their needs and desires in mind is at the forefront of everything I do. It’s a collaboration, and I really want to make sure they create the work that they want to create. This is where the best work will materialize.
soul cultivation is on view at the Hannah Traore Gallery until May 28.