An interview with Cozomo de’ Medici, the ‘grand patron’ of the digital art renaissance
The pseudonymous digital art collector sat down with Christie’s to chat about the future of art on the blockchain
Taking his name from the Florentine banker who financed foundational artworks of the early Italian Renaissance, the digital art collector and angel investor Cozomo de’ Medici burst onto the crypto art scene in 2021, dropping 1550 ETH (then worth $2.63 million) on two CryptoPunk Zombies. Since then he has amassed a large and varied collection of digital art on the blockchain, including major works by Sam Spratt, DeeKay Motion and XCOPY.
In his Medici Minutes, the self-described ‘grand patron of the digital arts’ documents his collecting journey and insights for more than 278K followers on Twitter. Much speculation has swirled on social media regarding the pseudonymous influencer’s identity. He made headlines in 2021 when Snoop Dogg claimed to be the real Cozomo. ‘I'm fortunate to have some friends who enjoy trolling Twitter as much as I do,’ Medici said of the stunt.
Medici is in the news again these days, but this time the focus is not on him but on his collection. He recently gifted 22 blockchain artworks to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which according to the institution is the largest donation of its kind to an American museum.
Medici spoke with Christie’s about the importance of institutional recognition for digital art and his predictions for the future of collecting digital art.
How did you come to be Cozomo de’ Medici?
Cozomo de’ Medici: It started by accident in a way. In July 2021, I was shopping for a CryptoPunk Ape. I made up a random alias and joined the CryptoPunks Discord, where I connected with a gentleman named Justin Aversano. He generously began helping me contact the owners of these Apes, even though he had no idea who I was. We started some negotiations, and in the meantime, there was an Ape listed at the floor price [the lowest ‘Buy Now’ price for an NFT within a collection], which was 1600 ETH.
I wanted an Ape that had a unique look, and that one was very similar to the collector Gmoney’s Ape, plus I thought it was overpriced. So I continued to search, and then one day my mobile started blowing up with messages about the floor Ape. It had sold to Gary Vaynerchuk.
When I went back to the collectors I was negotiating with, they had of course raised their prices. As I was debating biting the bullet and buying one, the prices just kept going up. My dreams of owning a CryptoPunk Ape were shattered.
Justin suggested I grab two CryptoPunk Zombies, which had looked extremely overpriced that morning but by the afternoon looked like a good deal. I purchased them both, and that was when The Medici Collection was born.
One of the Zombies I bought had a mask and was known in CryptoPunk lore as Cozom — for ‘Covid Zombie’. Knowing that Cosimo de’ Medici of the Early Renaissance had such a similar name, it was a natural transition to tweak the spelling a little — that’s how I became Cozomo de’ Medici.
How did the collection grow from there?
CDM: When I acquired those CryptoPunks, it was supposed to be one and done. But then I started looking at other digital artwork and NFT projects.
There's a great collector named BatSoupYum, and he tweeted this pyramid-shaped diagram of ‘NFT Money Flow’ that shows the typical progression of the digital art collector, where you start with PFPs, like CryptoPunks. Then you find generative art, like the amazing work that's being done on Art Blocks, and then it ends with you acquiring one of one [1/1] artworks.
That was basically my journey, same as many others.
How would you describe your journey through this diagram?
CDM: The term PFP is profile picture, and that’s really what brought this big wave of people into the NFT space because people use PFPs as a digital flex on social media. As their value went up, they also became a wealth flex, like having a Rolex or the orange Lamborghini.
After that I dove deep into the Art Blocks world and started acquiring some really exceptional generative art [NFTs that use algorithms to create content].
AC the Collector’s online gallery was a real inspiration to me to start collecting generative art, seeing how well the works paired together and made this beautiful space.
And that eventually led me to 1/1 art [single, unique editions] from artists like DeeKay, Claire Silver, Yam Karkai and of course XCOPY, of whom I'm one of the biggest collectors.
That's how the spiral began, and now not a day or even an hour goes by that I'm not thinking about my next 1/1 digital fine art purchase.
What does it mean to be a patron in the digital art world?
CDM: I think the definition of patronage is buying art that you love. And not thinking, Is the price going up? Is this a flex? It's exploring a wide array of artists and artworks rather than sticking to the ‘blue chip’ crypto art collections.
Patrons have a responsibility to uplift emerging artists. Nasser David Khalili said in an interview recently that ‘a true collector must not only collect but conserve, research, publish and exhibit his collection’. I really resonated with that, and the digital art space makes it fairly easy to exhibit your collection in beautiful online galleries using platforms like Deca and On Cyber. You get more eyeballs virtually than you would at many IRL exhibitions.
At the same time, I’m passionate about putting on mind-blowing displays of digital art in real life. I think that will be key to onboarding the next 100 million collectors. And so that's a big focus of The Medici Collection, putting on some of the most elaborate displays of digital art in the physical world.
‘We want to show people that anyone can be an art collector’ — Cozomo de’ Medici
Our mission is to put digital art in every home. In a sense, it already is in every home because everyone has a smartphone. But there’s a special pride of ownership with on-chain art. It's the difference between having a reproduction of a Picasso and having something created by Picasso's master hand on your wall.
We want to show people that anyone can be an art collector. The digital art world has been primarily dominated by men, and we're really excited to help change that as well, supporting women-led digital art projects and encouraging new voices in the space, both artists and collectors.
Vissyarts is one of my favourite stories. She’s an artist from Malaysia who was rejected by every gallery in her home city. They told her she would never make it in the art world. Then she started minting work online and grabbed the attention of digital art collectors, who really became a fanbase for her. Now she has collectors in all different parts of the world, after she was shunned by the traditional system.
Tell us about your recent donation of 22 blockchain artworks to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
CDM: I’m very excited. The goal was to gift a prominent museum a collection of works that tell a representative history of on-chain digital art. It’s a well-rounded grouping that includes everything from NFT photography to 1/1 art to CryptoPunks to some of the earliest AI artworks.
LACMA has long been at the forefront of innovation in the art world, and it's been a joy having a mutual dialogue about the canon of art on the blockchain. This is the first and largest donation of its kind to an American art museum. We hope it will open the floodgates and inspire more collectors to place their art in institutions to be preserved and enjoyed as pieces of history in this digital renaissance.
Where do you see the future of collecting digital art and its market?
CDM: AI works are really disrupting everything. With platforms like DALL-E, anyone can type a sentence and spit out an artwork that had Van Gogh seen it in his lifetime his jaw would drop.
There's a lot of noise that comes along with that, which is getting tougher to sort through. But artists like Claire Silver, Helena Sarin and Van Arman are mixing machine learning with a human touch in truly fascinating ways. New technological advancements are allowing humans to push the limits of the digital canvas and make interactive works that haven't been done before.
Right now, the traditional art market is dipping their toe into digital fine art. More and more people can see the value of blockchain technology when it comes to recording provenance data for traditional art. I think this year we’ll see new platforms that enable artists who paint on physical canvas to record their provenance on the blockchain.
I also see digital artists continuing to create physical works to accompany digital art. For example, Tyler Hobbs’s Fidenza NFTs come with a signed print. That's important right now because the digital displays are getting there, but they're not yet at a price that most people can afford.
I think something that will really drive the next wave of digital art collecting is beautiful in-home displays. We're investing in in companies that are creating great displays, and it's also great to see some of the biggest screen makers in the world like Samsung embrace this technology and engineer their products to be more friendly to digital art display.
How do you find new artists?
CDM: It's a challenge. I've found a surprising number of artists through them commenting on my Tweets. And I encourage people to do so. I've been meaning to do a post on my Hall of Fame of Missed Direct Messages. I have many missed DMs from artists that have since had huge breakouts.
I also like to ask artists who they’re into. I found Sam Spratt through FEWOCiOUS, who tweeted about him. And then I saw FEWO placing bids on Sam's I. Birth of Luci. And I thought, Wow, this is captivating. It was the last half hour of the auction. There were three people going for it. I quickly looked up Sam and saw the work he had done with amazing musicians. He had a lot of depth to his style, and seeing FEWO bidding was also a big sign for me because talent recognises talent.
I bid on it and won. That was the first piece of his I acquired. It led me to a great friendship with Sam and to later acquire his VII. Wormfood at Christie’s.
Do you have anything to say about all the speculation around your identity?
CDM: Let's see…I love the guesses, and as everyone has seen, I like to have some fun with it. I'm fortunate to have some friends who enjoy trolling Twitter as much as I do.
But I promised I would never speak about my identity again. Anonymity is critical for security in this space because of hacking, phishing attacks, and so on.
I think the real identity story is the art and artists we support with the collection, that's why I do this.
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