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Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Polaroids
Jean-Michel BasquiatPhotography Andy Warhol, via

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s estate forbids the sale of controversial NFT

The NFT of a drawing by the late artist has been pulled from an auction that would have allowed buyers to destroy the original artwork

The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat has pulled the plug on an upcoming auction for an NFT of a drawing by the late artist, which would have granted the buyer permission to destroy the original artwork.

Announced earlier this week, the sale offered Basquiat’s mixed media work Free Comb with Pagoda (1986) on OpenSea marketplace, with bidding starting at one ethereum (which equates to approximately $2,700). 

In a destructive twist, buyers were also offered the chance to have the original artwork “deconstructed” to make the NFT the “only remaining form”. The listing, backed by self-proclaimed “digital provocateurs” Daystrom, claimed the transaction would “memorialise ownership”, also promising “reproduction and IP rights that will be sold to the highest bidder in perpetuity”.

Now, however, Basquiat’s estate has intervened, stopping the sale on the grounds that the seller does not in fact own the license or rights to the artwork. “The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat owns the copyright in the artwork referenced,” licensing agent David Stark tells The Art Newspaper. “No license or rights were conveyed to the seller and the NFT has subsequently been removed from sale.”

“While blockchain transactions are widely considered a trusted source of authentication and provenance, best copyright practices have yet to evolve for the digital economy,” says Daystrom in a statement, though critics have also raised concerns about the artist’s moral rights in this case.

NFT enthusiasts and critics alike will remember that the cancelled Basquiat sale isn’t the first to revolve around the destruction (or potential destruction) of an artist’s work. Earlier this year, an NFT sale saw a blockchain company burn a $95,000 Banksy artwork to “explore a new medium of artistic expression”.

If you’re still nonplussed about the current buzz around NFTs — nonfungible tokens, for the uninitiated — revisit Dazed’s explainer with four digital artists, and listen to this podcast in our A Future World series for more on how they could affect the future of art.