“Mitchell Sells Broken Link!”. Why Fingerprints Acquired An Empty NFT

Fingerprints DAO
5 min readMay 15, 2021

The concept of an NFT is still mind-blowing to many people. “What exactly are you buying?”

Autoglyphs, the core of the Fingerprints DAO Collection — 5% of the supply resides with Fingerprints — was the first artwork fully encapsulated in the token itself. You can say it’s the closest to owning a physical artwork, on the blockchain.

But art is not always physical. For a long time, there has been art that is purely conceptual. One of the best examples is the work of Yves Klein.

“Klein Sells Wind!”

In 1962, French avant-garde artist Yves Klein sold fresh air for 14 gold ingots. The buyers, screenwriter Michael Blankfort and his wife, received a receipt for a “Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility”. Klein then asked the Blankforts to burn the receipt, threw half the gold into the Seine and kept the other half.

Yves Klein and the Blankforts in the burning cerimony

It was shocking at the time. French newspapers printed the headline “Klein Sells Wind!”. But this was not Klein’s first time. In 1958 he emptied a gallery, white-washed the walls and invited people in to see his immaterial artwork. Guests were served a cocktail that turned their urine blue for a week. Klein sold two immaterial works of art that night.

Klein challenged the idea of what art could be, by severing the connection between artistic object and the world around it. The Blankforts did not buy an item, but an experience. No physical artifact needed to exist for “Zones” to be considered art.

Yves Klein and NFTs

The Blankforts’ receipt, like NFTs, proves ownership of something that no one can exclusively possess. For Klein, this applied to fresh air. For NFTs in general, it’s a file that anyone can download.

This idea was brought up in a recent Economist article:

“The Economist” proposed recently that Yves Klein work was the earliest form of NFT

Yves Klein has been increasingly recognized by collectors. Often ridiculed during his lifetime, he is regarded as an influential avant-garde artist today. IKB 1, one of the nearly two hundred blue monochrome paintings Klein created was sold at Sotheby’s in 2008 for $17,400,000.

IKB I, by Yves Klein

The Genius of Mitchell F. Chan

Sometimes we need a demonstration to really understand the power of technology. This demonstration doesn’t need to be the final form of the technology but needs to show an innovative way of doing something that was previously impossible.

This has been the case for a long time now. Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos-Dumont flying a machine that barely resembled an airplane in Paris, proved that objects heavier than the air could fly by themselves.

Santos-Dumont and his flying machine, Paris 1906

In August 2017, a few months after the launch of CryptoPunks (the first NFT) and a few months before CryptoKitties, Mitchell F. Chan proposed to reproduce Yves Klein's “Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility” in a digital medium, using the Ethereum blockchain.

Cover for “The Blue Paper”, where the artist outlined his vision

Instead of receipts, ERC-20 tokens — this was before the existence of ERC-721 standard for NFTs — tied to a unique edition number. The token symbol is IKB, a reference to International Klein Blue, the Yves Klein color.

Instead of fresh air, the token linked to a section of a pure white blank screen. In a twist of irony, the link was lost during the fork of Swarm in the battle for power with Justin Sun, making it a truly empty reference, i.e. a broken link.

Instead of gold, the smart contract only receives ETH as payment. And in one of the earliest examples of a bonding curve, it keeps half the ETH deposited in the curve, and the ETH is burned if you burn the receipt.

When wrapping the ERC-20 token into an ERC-721, the result we get is a version of the original Klein receipt:

Wrapped version of Digital Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility, Series 0, Edition 15. Fingerprints also acquired editions 18 and 20 of Series 0

The bonding curve doubles the price of each series of Digital Zones. Series 0, minted in 2017, comprising tokens 0–30, were minted for 0.1 ETH each. This doubles every series, until the final Series 7 (still unreleased).

The artist has since unpaused the contract for minting of series 1–4. Art in America, one of the most important publications for contemporary art, featured the work recently.

Series 5 (editions 71–80) is set to be released on May 18, 2021. Series 1 sold out in 6 minutes. Series 2 in 91 seconds. Series 3 and 4 in 2 days.

There will only be 101 tokens for this work. We look forward to mint the subsequent series with the community.

Why Fingerprints Acquired Three of the Original 2017 Series 0 Tokens?

After we included more members in Fingerprints DAO, our vision for the collection evolved. The vision went from purely on-chain artwork, to collect artwork that makes innovative use of smart contracts.

We established a Curation and Acquisition Committee, responsible to find and acquire these artworks.

The Fingerprints DAO Collection will be the reference for innovative uses of smart contracts as art. And our feeling at the Curation and Acquisition Committee, with lots of input from the community, is that Digital Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility (2017) is the earliest version of NFT as high art and the first truly conceptual NFT.

While it can be seen as a derivative work of the original Klein work — and the artist doesn’t try to hide this at all — it was made in a time when exploring the medium itself was innovative. Chan set out to reproduce digitally Klein’s work. He inadvertently created one of the first NFTs, sold through one of the first bonding curves.

With Autoglyphs (2019) being the first fully contained artwork in a smart contract, the boundaries of what was possible were pushed once more.

There has never been a secondary sale of this work, which makes the value of the original Series 0 hard to assess. Fingerprints was granted the privilege to collect these early tokens because the artist himself believes in our project and became a member of the DAO, agreeing that this would not be an ordinary collection.

We are looking to collect other artists that are expanding what’s possible to do with this technology: interactive work, audiovisual work, novel minting (and burning) mechanisms, on-chain generative art, etc. Only shortcuts are not allowed.

This combination of art and technology is one of the most interesting artistic movements taking place right now. This movement can truly become more than “crypto art”.

Simply, art.