It turns out that Daystrom — the “digital provocateurs” behind the sale of an NFT of a drawing by Jean-Michel Basquiat — doesn't actually own the license or rights to the work. That's welcome news considering the winning bidder would have been given the option to destroy the physical artwork.

David Stark, the licensing agent who deals with Basquiat’s archive, told The Art Newspaper: “The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat owns the copyright in the artwork referenced. No license or rights were conveyed to the seller and the NFT has subsequently been removed from sale.”

It's unsurprising that we're seeing morally dubious auction items such as this right now. We're living in a Basquiat auction boom and an NFT bubble. Nothing sums up this peculiar moment in history better than the auction of the late, great painter's “Free Comb with Pagoda” mix media work.

Daystrom had announced that the highest bidder would receive an encrypted digitized token of Basquiat's original work. And that's when things got weird. At the buyer's discretion, the original artwork would be “deconstructed,” leaving the NFT as the only remaining form of Basquiat's work to exist. The work was being sold on OpenSea marketplace, starting at one Ethereum (approximately $2,500).

Speaking on the auction, the “multi-segment mindshare” know as Daystrom explained, “Value has become increasingly fungible, diluted and unstable in our evolving metaverse and there’s a tremendous spike in user demand for exclusivity. NFT assets provide this exclusivity and create an entirely new online value system that was previously unimaginable.”

That's all well and good, but do we really need to destroy an original Basquiat in the name of fungibility? From the Dadaists to Banksy, self-destructing artworks are nothing new, but Daystrom has put a peculiar and troubling twist on the theme by putting the act of destruction in the hands of the highest bidder.

The artwork had failed to sell at an auction in 2012 when it was offered for $80,000 to $120,000, but given the recent record auction run of Basquiat paintings and the controversial nature of this auction, “Free Comb with Pagoda” was likely to have fetched a high price on April 30 when bidding was scheduled to close.

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