The modern art world is something that few people can honestly claim to understand. Generally, people want things to have a meaning — when no meaning is present, we seem all too happy to create it. Hopefully you know what you’re drawn to and what caters to your tastes, but critically acclaimed work might still leave you confused or bewildered.
Sometimes, the ones who are creating art or who claim to “get it” are pretentious beyond their own well-being; other times, they seem genuinely tapped into something special. This is, of course, in the eye of the beholder — though we often favor the rouge pranksters who are having fun with art. People like Matty Mo, a.k.a. “the Most Famous Artist,” don’t give a sh*t about what the rest of us think is art because they believe in what they’re doing.
Matty Mo (full name Matt Monahan) was the CEO of a social advertising tech business called AlphaBoost, until a friend uploaded a video of him naked and wasted in India to Facebook. Those photographs ultimately led to the slow crumble of an empire he’d worked incredibly hard to build. Regardless of what you think of the antics of tech bros, that’s a steep price to pay.
Mo regrouped and rediscovered himself as The Most Famous Artist. His pieces, (most notably his works “100k” and “kilo”) play court jester in the discussion of what art actually is. When you sell bricks of cash, is it art? Are you mocking the art world or joining its ridiculousness?
With those questions in mind, we spoke to Mo about his merry prankster vibe, the notion of truth in art, and where viral culture meets the art world.
Tell us about who The Most Famous Artist is, because when you go to to the website…
On my website right now, I have two products listed. “A Kilo” and “$100k”. The “$100k” series was a major success. I sold ten cash bricks on Instagram in 12 hours, directly from my audience for $5,000 each, with revenues totaling $50,000. That in itself was pretty amazing.
My thinking is that the Internet will be responsible for creating the most famous artist. In the past we learned about famous artists in textbooks and at school, but now in a connected world with information democracy, whoever’s best at propagating their story will become the most famous artist. There’s a bunch of people that were referred to as the most famous artist in terms of an adjective, but there will actually be an artist quantified and verified as “The Most Famous Artist” because of the Internet.
The work I create is inspired by and created for the Internet. The thinking being that every day we’re using our thumbs to scroll through a news feed of some sort, whether you’re on email, or Instagram, or Facebook, you’re digesting all this information. Whoever penetrates the majority of those channels in the best way, will inherently win the title “The Most Famous Artist”.
News feeds are architected to surface popular content.
I try to integrate my art into a news cycle. There’s this artist Plastic Jesus who is a big inspiration to me, and he just released this FIFA trophy that is made of dollar bills, and it got some coverage by The Guardian. That’s a great example; a story breaks, and the press covers it, but then there’s a lull between the story breaking and a resolution to said story. Because the story is already popular and in the collective consciousness, creating art around that story and feed it to the press is a really effective way to distribute your art.
FIFA’s Sepp Blatter hasn’t been prosecuted yet, but that story is still out there, so the press is willing to write a FIFA-oriented art story. That’s a high-level framework for thinking about art that spreads and art that works in the twenty-first century.
Just by virtue of being in the twenty-first century, things can be viral now. They don’t necessarily have to have lasting power. They don’t have to be able to last hundreds of years and be timeless, but right now they can rattle things a little bit.
Right, but things written on the Internet will last forever in the land of 0’s and 1’s. The framework I’m using for thinking of this art has 3 parts: it’s timely, it’s visual, and it’s consistent with the brand of the artist.
Mr. Brainwash, for example, he explores celebrities. Plastic Jesus, he is satirical and subversive. The Most Famous Artist is about interrogating the artwork itself, and the values of the art world.
The “$100k” series was based on Bow Wow getting called out for posting fake cash on the internet by this guy Tim Sykes. There are these Instagrammers who are posting pictures of cash on their accounts and the press was writing about it. This led me to question the validity of cash posted on Instagram. That was the timeliness part of my framework. For visual component, if you want your art to spread, it’s has got to be something people want to take a picture of. There are already these examples of Instagram celebrities taking pictures of cash, so why not make an art object that’s just straight cash?
The part that relates the “$100k” series back to my brand is in questioning the material value of art and whether or not it matters what materials cost in appraising a work of art.
If you buy a Rothko or you buy a Pollock, you don’t scrutinize how much paint or canvas or material was used to create that multi-million dollar painting. But, with the “100K” series, for whatever reason, humans want to investigate the material value of the cash inside the brick. What’s fascinating about this brick is, unlike any other art, if you were to break it open or were I not to become a famous artist, you still have the cash value there. Whereas if you buy a painting for 25 grand, and the artist vanishes or becomes irrelevant, you’re stuck with 200 bucks of materials. There is a minimum amount of currency that could be inside of one of these “$100k” cash bricks; it’s 1,198 dollars.
Whereas an “actual” piece of art can fluctuate in value.
And, it could be worth zero.
Totally. I’m reading Duchamp’s biography right now. I think that Warhol got a lot of credit for a lot of the things Duchamp brought into the world.
Art has never been the same since Duchamp. I can get away with selling art objects titled “A Kilo,” and art objects titled “One Hundred Thousand Dollars,” that may or may not actually be the exact material described in the title, but creates the same type of emotions when you hold it in your hands because it’s real enough.
The idea here is that every one of these cash bricks has at least 1,198 dollars in it. Every collector gets a list of serial numbers. Some cash bricks have more than the $5,000 that was paid for them, some have less. If one gets opened with more than $5,000, it’ll force all of the buyers to question whether or not they should open theirs and destroy the art for profit. That’s another interrogation of the art world, which is, in order to profit, in some cases, you have to destroy the art.
But, if someone opens it and it’s less than $5,000, it’ll also force the purchaser to hold onto the art object, see what happens to my career and whether or not the secondary market will push the value of the object upward.
That’s fascinating, man. That’s a pretty intense analysis of the state of the art world right now. It’s an intense interrogation of it, as you said. You’re calling into question a lot of the inherent value of art. You’re creating these cash bricks, but you also paint, correct? Traditional paintings?
Yeah, I create traditional paintings, I create drawings, I create sculptures. I may not be the best at it, but for whatever reason, I seem to be able to make my art objects famous.
Like Jeff Koons always says, “Follow your interests.” Right now, my interests are creating art that I know is going to spread online, because it’s timely, visual, and consistent with my brand. The money happened to be an excellent execution of that. There’s a bunch of other artists that use cash in their practice, but in different ways. I just sold straight up cash for cash as the art, and I’m selling “A Kilo” as a kilo for art. Who knows what I will sell next.
Are you going about it in the same way with the kilos and the cash?
“A Kilo” comes with a certificate of authenticity too, with the exact weight of the object in grams. It’s called “The Kilo,” we don’t know what’s inside of it, and only by destroying the art can you find out the truth.
It’s kind of like Schrödinger’s cat. I really like this idea that you have to destroy the art to profit or to find out the truth, or to not know the truth and live in mystery, keeps the art alive.
That’s such an interesting mentality. Destroying the art … it could potentially lose its value, but you learn the truth. It’s calling out human curiosity, and asking ‘are you okay with not knowing?’
Schrödinger’s cat was both dead and alive inside of that radioactive contaminated box if you don’t open it. Only once you open it, you find out the truth. With “A Kilo” it’s both an illicit drug and baking soda at the same time. Do you need to know the truth? With “$100k”, both 1,198 dollars and 100,000 at the same time until you try to find out the truth.
The Mad Ones is a reference to a famous quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ”
Watch this series for interviews and profiles with people doing big, wild, bold, creative things with their lives. #TheMadOnes