[NEWS] White Male for Sale : Artist Dread Scott’s First NFT

September 15, 2021

Still from Dread Scott's White Male for Sale (2021). Courtesy of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery.

This spring, the phrase “non-fungible token” (NFT) exploded into the popular lexicon seemingly overnight, leaving many of us scrambling to wrap our heads around the concept. White Male for Sale, an NFT by the artist and activist Dread Scott that uses the uber-capitalist art form as a form of social critique, will be auctioned off at Christie’s Post-War to Present sale on 1 October, in collaboration with Cristin Tierney Gallery.


Scott was inspired to make the piece when he first heard about the concept of a non-fungible token. “The term fungible resonated differently for me due to its use by scholars of the history of slavery,” Scott said in a press release. “People are inherently non-fungible. But as slavery became an integral part of developing capitalism, enslavers sought to make people fungible.”


Now Scott is attempting to do something parallel with his first NFT: a looping video of a generic white man atop an auction block in modern-day Brooklyn. The work, which began as a performance, will be completed when it is auctioned off. The sale references the qualitative ranking done to enslaved people, which served a dual purpose--dehumanising them and suggesting their value to potential buyers. “During much of the history of America, enslaved people were sold at auction. Frequently these auctions would take place on a street corner. The enslaved person would be made to stand on a block as they were auctioned. Advertisements announcing ‘Negros for sale’ were common,” Scott says.



An installation view from Scott’s exhibition “We’re Going to End Slavery. Join Us!” 2021. 

Courtesy of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York. 

When slavery was legal in the United States, the standard for a so-called tier one slave was a 25-year-old male, who was perhaps best for labor. Those of lesser value—unskilled women, children, and the elderly—according to slaveholders, were deemed second or third tier and so on. By categorizing people in this way they could be more easily converted into commodified goods. In auctioning White Man for Sale as an NFT, Scott is looking to connect the histories of capitalism and slavery to the present moment.

Scott explained that he has no say in the pricing for the piece (it’s being consigned by Tierney), but offered up a guideline: $2,064,000, or the average lifetime income of a white male, aged 35, if he worked to retirement age at 68. The sum is therefore roughly equivalent to the maximum labor one could extract from such a person, “if you owned him,” Scott said. (Christie’s has not publicized the estimate, saying only that it is available “on request.”)


The sale comes on the heels of Scott’s first solo gallery exhibition in more than 20 years, We’re Going to End Slavery. Join Us! (17 September-18 December) at Cristin Tierney Gallery in New York.


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