Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.
Around one year ago, two literary bros from Miami decided to launch a business venture.
It was a couple weeks after Beeple’s Everydays sold for $69 million at Christie’s and NFTs were taking the art world by storm. Still, few could have guessed at the time that their little company, Yuga Labs, would produce a series of cartoon apes that would become some of the most successful—and divisive—characters in the NFT universe.
“It’s hard to justify that a Bored Ape NFT is worth $300,000 based on the art. They’re cartoon apes,” crypto journalist Amy Castor said. “They’re cute, you know, but is it worth that kind of money?”
For many people, including lots of celebrities, the answer is yes.
Today, Yuga Labs has more than 60 employees and more than $2 billion in total sales. Over the past few weeks, it has gone on a tear announcing new initiatives, from the acquisition of CryptoPunks and Meebits, arguably the two other most popular NFT series, to the launch of Apecoin, its own cryptocurrency. Larva Labs now hopes to create what is essentially a Marvel universe from all this intellectual property—and make a lot of money along the way.
But Castor thinks that Yuga Labs’s recent acquisitions are antithetical to the core tenets that NFT evangelists tout.
“The whole idea about NFTs is that they’re supposed to be decentralized. It’s not supposed to be one outfit having control of the top three most expensive NFT projects,” she said. “They’ve created a perceived value out of thin air so that they can then monetize that brand.”
Its strategy suggests what the future of the NFT space might look like. But it remains unclear whether this future will benefit everyday NFT collectors and enthusiasts as much as the big investors and founders of companies like Yuga Labs.
To unpack the wild and winding story of Yuga Labs and the Bored Ape Yacht Club, executive editor Julia Halperin spoke with Amy Castor, who recently chronicled the rise of this phenomenon for Artnet News.
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