On Friday (29 July), the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, will unveil HUMAN ONE (2021), a three-dimensional sculpture and generative video installation by digital artist Mike Winkelman, better known as Beeple. This marks the work’s first public display in the US since it was sold during a November 2021 evening auction at Christie’s in New York for $29m—the buyer was Ryan Zurrer, the Swiss tech entrepreneur. This US museum debut follows displays at M+ in Hong Kong and Castello di Rivoli in Italy. The work will remain on view at Crystal Bridges until early next year.
HUMAN ONE consists of four 16K resolution screens placed within a metal armature and depicts humanity’s first steps into the digital terrain known as the Metaverse. The images on its screens are in perpetual motion and create the illusion of an infinite space inside the work’s armature, mimicking the “everlasting search” for technological advancement. Beeple has said he will update HUMAN ONE’s scenery every time it is installed in a new location for the rest of his life. The piece also has elements of a scavenger hunt—visitors who find easter eggs in the artwork can unlock a suite of related NFTs (non-fungible tokens) created by the artist.
“HUMAN ONE taps into the full potential of digital art because it has the unique ability to dynamically change over time,” the artist said in a statement. “A traditional work of art is more akin to a finite statement, frozen in time at the moment it was completed. But because this piece has the capacity to be updated, it will be more akin to an ongoing conversation I can continue to add new meaning to over time.”
Beeple cemented his place in the cultural consciousness when his NFT Everydays—The First 5000 Days (2021), sold for a record-shattering $69.3m at Christie’s in 2021. The sale epitomised the mystery, intrigue and excess of the NFT boom, prompting art institutions, galleries and auction houses to regard the blockchain with more than a raised eyebrow.
Beeple is “charting new territory for art creation by combining a virtual and physical existence—a metaphor for human progress”, Xuxa Rodríguez, associate curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges, said in a statement. “Showcasing self-taught and digital artists and time-based media is a complete alignment with our mission to expand definitions of and access to American art for all.”
- Beeple: HUMAN ONE, 28 July 2023-22 January 2024, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas