There are two things that seem to have no inherent value and cause observers both fascination and anger– cryptocurrencies and art. Artist Andy Bauch decided to bring the two subjects together with works that use abstract patterns constructed in Lego bricks. Each piece visually represents the private key to a crypto-wallet, and anyone can steal that digital cash—if you can decode them.
Bauch had the idea in 2013 so one can say he is an early mover. He told the online magazine Gizmodo that he considers himself an enthusiast but not a “rabid promoter” of the technology. “I wasn’t smart enough to buy enough to have fuck-you money,” he said. In 2016, he started to integrate his Bitcoin interest with his art practice.
His latest series of work, New Money, opens at LA’s Castelli Art Space on Friday. Bauch says that each piece in the series “is a secret key to various types of cryptocurrency.” He bought various amounts of Bitcoin, Litecoin, and other alt-coins in 2016 and put them in different digital wallets. Each wallet is encrypted with a private key that consists of a string of letters and numbers. That key was initially fed into an algorithm to generate a pattern. Then Bauch tweaked the algorithm here and there to get it to spit out an image that appealed to him. After finalizing the works, he’s rigorously tested them in reverse to ensure that they do, indeed, give you the right private key when processed through his formula.
His approach adds a bit of an egalitarian approach to the art’s value. The work wouldn’t exist without the private wallet key, and each piece has its own price tag. The titles help illustrate what type of coin are in the wallet and how much it was worth at the time he purchased it. During the exhibition, Bausch will project a live feed of the changing values of each wallet. The cryptomarket is volatile, and this week the total value hit $10,000, but as of this writing it’s about $9,000. A collector can buy the piece, but any viewer who thinks they’ve cracked the code can take the money from the wallets. There’s a level of gamification going on that you too could participate in if you’re so inclined—all the works can be seen on Artsy and the wallets can be found here. The Token Post suggests that you let Bauch get through his opening first before you take all his coins.