âThis is a really rare opportunity to buy a white male for sale,â said the artist. âThey donât come up very often.â
This spring, the phrase ânon-fungible tokenâ (NFT) exploded into the popular lexicon seemingly overnight, leaving many of us scrambling to wrap our heads around the concept. But artist Dread Scott was thinking about something else. To him, the word âfungibleâ had an eerie ring to it.
The term, he recalled, was used in 1980s-era scholarship about the slave trade in Portugal and Spain. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, those countries employed a system whereby slavesâcalled âpieces of Indiaââwere measured in relation to an ideal slave. If a 25-year-old male was a top-tier piece, a 40-year-old woman was a third-tier, perhaps.
In other words, slavers attempted to make people fungible.
Now Scott is attempting to do something parallel with his first NFT: a looping video of a generic white man atop an auction block in modern-day Brooklyn. In the 70-second-long work, several Black people pass the manâwho, not for nothing, looks a lot like Jim from The Officeâbut no one acknowledges his existence. (See the full video here.) https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=tddafoe&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1437878913850560512&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fnews.artnet.com%2Fmarket%2Fdread-scott-christies-nft-white-man-2008959&sessionId=8a4195a9069f9a7ceef1f2bfcde8087ed7c3cc4e&theme=light&widgetsVersion=1890d59c%3A1627936082797&width=500px
Titled White Male for Sale, the artwork is technically a standard NFT, but also something moreâa discomfiting performance piece that implicates the very platform hosting the work. That would be Christieâs, where Scottâs work will be auctioned off in a special sale on October 1.
âThis is a really rare opportunity to buy a white male for sale,â Scott said, matter-of-factly, to Artnet News. âIf you have money to buy one, you should do itâthey donât come up very often.â
The artistâs gallerist, Cristin Tierney, approached the auctioneer with the idea of Scottâs piece earlier this year, explained Barrett White, Christieâs executive deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art.
An installation view from Scottâs exhibition âWeâre Going to End Slavery. Join Us!â 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York.
Scott explained that he has no say in the pricing for the piece (itâs being consigned by Tierney), but offered up a guideline: $2,064,000, or the average lifetime income of a white male, aged 35, if he worked to retirement age at 68. The sum is therefore roughly equivalent to the maximum labor one could extract from such a person, âif you owned him,â Scott said. (Christieâs has not publicized the estimate, saying only that it is available âon request.â)
Prior to its offering at Christieâs, White Male for Sale will be on view at Cristin Tierney, where Scott is also about to open his first solo exhibition in 20 years. âWeâre Going to End Slavery. Join Us!â, as the show is titled, also features film stills and flags from the artistâs ambitious 2019 performance project Slave Rebellion Reenactment, for which he hired hundreds of Black actors to recreate the German Coast Uprising of 1811. So named for the area of modern-day Louisiana where it occurred, the uprising is today considered to be the largest rebellion of enslaved people in American history.
âWeâre Going to End Slavery. Join Us!â is on view at New Yorkâs Cristin Tierney Gallery, 219 Bowery, 2nd floor, September 17âDecember 18, 2021.