In an effort to re-establish “authority” over the utilization of her likeness, Emily Ratajkowski, the mannequin and author, is minting a nonfungible token, or NFT, which will probably be auctioned at Christie’s on May 14. The piece will probably be titled “Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution.”
As Ms. Ratajkowski chronicled in a extensively learn essay printed in The Cut final fall, she’d been stunned to discover out, in 2014, nude of herself was hanging within the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue. As a part of his “New Portraits” collection, the artist Richard Prince had taken considered one of her Instagram pictures and printed it on a big canvas, priced at $90,000.
Ms. Ratajkowski tried to purchase the piece however a Gagosian worker purchased it for himself. After contacting Mr. Prince’s studio straight, although, she was ready to receive a second “Instagram painting” of herself, that includes a photograph from her first look in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit situation. She had been paid $150 for the shoot, she wrote, and a “couple grand” when the difficulty was printed. She and her boyfriend on the time purchased the piece for $81,000; once they broke up, she paid her ex $10,000 for a smaller “study” that Mr. Prince’s studio had given her.
The picture hooked up to the NFT is a digital composite displaying Ms. Ratajkowski, photographed in her New York residence, posing in entrance of the Richard Prince portray that hangs in her Los Angeles house. (To remind: a nonfungible token is the metadata related to the picture file, permitting the file to be purchased or offered like a bodily piece of artwork.)
Instead of cash-based foreign money, NFTs are bought utilizing cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ethereum, and the transactions are completely recorded on the respective foreign money’s blockchain, which features like a ledger. Ms. Ratajkowski is utilizing the platform OpenSea to add her NFT to the Ethereum blockchain, however her NFT will probably be on the market in U.S. , and the fund switch will occur “off-chain,” a Christie’s spokeswoman stated. There is not any reserve, or beginning, worth on the piece.
In March, after the artist Beeple’s $69.3 million NFT sale at Christie’s, talent agents started encouraging their celebrity clients to participate in the NFT “money grab,” Ms. Ratajkowski said in an interview. Brands and cryptocurrency brokers contacted her directly, she said, offering her 20 percent to 60 percent of profits for an NFT featuring her likeness. “I had this bad feeling in my stomach about that way of approaching it,” she said, so she decided to develop her own project — following another prominent model, Kate Moss.
As Ms. Ratajkowski browsed NFT marketplaces like OpenSea, Foundation and SuperRare, she came across bouncing smiley-face GIFs and 3-D renderings, thinking to herself: “Why are they NFTs? They don’t need to be NFTs.”
Because an NFT is less about the image itself and more the concept of ownership over a digital file, Ms. Ratajkowski realized the medium could be an effective way to make a statement about ownership — by appropriating Mr. Prince’s appropriation of her photo.
“As somebody who has built a career off of sharing my image, so many times — even though that’s my livelihood — it’s taken from me and then somebody else profits off of it,” she said. Every time her NFT is resold, she will receive an undisclosed cut. “To me, this digital marketplace is a way to communicate this specific idea that couldn’t exist in a different way.”
Mr. Prince, who did not respond to messages sent through Gagosian and his studio manager, has been using other artists’ work in his own work since the 1980s, and he made a name for himself by taking photos of existing photographs. His work has long been controversial, and Ms. Ratajkowski is not the first subject to take issue with the “New Portraits” series of Instagram appropriations.
In 2015, Selena Mooney, the founder of the erotic website SuicideGirls, sold $90 copies of a piece by Mr. Prince that features one of her Instagram posts, with proceeds going to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.
“If I had a nickel for every time someone used our images without our permission in a commercial endeavor I’d be able to spend $90,000 on art,” Ms. Mooney wrote on Instagram. Another subject, the sex educator Zoë Ligon, told Artnet she felt “violated” by Mr. Prince’s use of her selfie in 2019.
Mr. Prince has also been sued at least five times over copyright infringement relating to the “New Portraits” series, The New York Times has reported, including two high-profile lawsuits filed by two photographers, Donald Graham and Eric McNatt. Mr. McNatt claimed that Mr. Prince misused a photo of Kim Gordon he shot for Paper magazine. According to court documents, he was paid between $50 and $100 for the shoot.
The art critic Jerry Saltz, who called “New Portraits” “genius trolling” in a 2014 review, worked with Kenny Schachter, an artist and art-world gadfly, to produce an NFT of the disputed Kim Gordon image in early April. Ms. Gordon chimed in and wrote that she wondered if Mr. McNatt “will sue you too?” on Mr. Schachter’s Instagram post.
Casey Reas, an artist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who has dealt in NFTs for five years, noted they could be of particular appeal to content creators, whose images are so often replicated far beyond their control.
“With things in the physical, material world, ownership is pretty clear, but with digital files, it’s always been sort of a fuzzy area,” he said. “NFTs allow one person to have clear, public ownership over a digital thing, like an image or a video.”
However, those pieces of media can still go viral. “The work itself is not scarce,” Mr. Reas said. “That image can still circulate around the internet, but ownership is the thing that the NFT allows somebody to claim.” Like a physical painting, the original artist still retains copyright; unlike a physical painting, every time an NFT changes hands, the original artist gets royalties.
To Ms. Ratajkowski there’s another potential dividend: moral justice. She said that after her article was published, models started reaching out to discuss “not just their image being used, but their bodies being misused, and used for profit in ways they didn’t consent to,” she said, a topic she explores in an upcoming essay collection, “My Body,” which Metropolitan Books is planning to publish in October. Across fashion, film and the art world, she added, young women are made to “feel like they don’t need to be paid properly.”
And she said cryptocurrency experts warned her: “People are going to use your image in NFTs in one way or another, so you might as well make one.”