Betting on Herself With a Take on Bitcoin
- by Matthew Brodsky
Blame the photography class for BitchCoin. Sarah Meyohas C13 W13 took photography as a sixth class her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. Otherwise, she was well on her way to finance. Sure, she came to Wharton as a freshman interested in a career in fashion and retail. But she also comes from a finance family, has three brothers in the money business, math is her strong suit, and she had already earned internships at a hedge fund and a distressed private equity shop. Then came that photography class.
“It just snowballed from there, and it came to the point where in my mind, it was like risk management with my life, with my career,” she says.
What she means is that with graduation approaching in 2013, she came to the first fork in her adult life. She could continue to work in finance—and then probably do so for the rest of her life—or she could drop things and pursue art. If art worked out, fantastic. If art didn’t work out, she knew she could always go back to business school.
“That was the kind of risk assessment in my mind,” she says.
So far, so good. Now, she is the youngest MFA candidate in her program at Yale University and is gaining national attention for her latest project, BitchCoin. It’s part an artistic expression about women being aggressive and strong, about the dematerialization of currency, about the value of photography. BitchCoin is also a way for Meyohas to invest in herself and entice investors to her art.
“BitchCoin allows art collectors to invest directly in Sarah Meyohas as a value producer rather than investing in the artwork itself. For investors, BitchCoin is like any currency tradable on the open market. It’s a bet on Sarah Meyohas with no expiration,” is how the BitchCoin website explains it.
Here’s how it works (or I think it works): Meyohas has created her own crypto-currency, akin to Bitcoin in that it resides in virtual form only. Meyohas’ currency, however, is backed by one of her photographs, now held in a bank vault at HSBC. The image itself is called “Speculation”—a play on words on her bet on herself and because she constructed the photograph with a series of specular relations (reflections in a two-way mirror).
Meyohas released 200 coins and has fixed the exchange rate at one BitchCoin per 25 square inches of photograph (the launch rate equals $100 per coin, which puts her work at below-gallery prices, she says).
She held her first sale of them at the Where 6 exhibition in New York City Feb. 15, 2015, and still in the gallery is her BitchCoin “mine,” a desktop computer housed inside a shipping container. She also sold coins at bitchcoin.biz. I’m using past tense here because she already reached her sales goal (a number she did not tell me) and bought the remaining BitchCoins herself (i.e., the literal investment in herself).
Investors can “cash in” their coins for the actual print. Meyohas expects to be flexible and offer a number of print sizes, determined by the number of coins exchanged, or even to allow investors to exchange coins for other works from her.
“There will be a collection of images eventually,” she says.
She anticipates that there will be a secondary market for her work, and she intends to align the secondary market with values on the primary market (unlike what’s typical in art, where prices in the secondary market can be higher or lower).
In other words, she will have control over her artwork and her career. The BitchCoin rate of exchange will never change, no matter how much her artwork goes up or down in value. One BitchCoin will get you 25 square inches of print, whether the photograph is worth $1,000 or $50,000.
“Visual artists generally don’t receive royalties like musicians or writers. An artist’s work might fluctuate wildly on the market, changing hands between collectors several times without any permission of, or compensation to, the artist. BitchCoin gives Sarah Meyohas a stake in the supply, demand, and price of her own work,” declares the BitchCoin website.
She hopes BitchCoin will follow her throughout her career, but it will only happen if she turns out to be a good artist.
“I just need to produce good work,” she says.
If not and she returns to finance? She has that possibility covered too. “Speculation” will always be safe in a vault because they are backed by BitchCoin. Even if she finds herself at a hedge fund in 10 years, an investor could exchange her BitchCoins for a print.
In the meantime, she will continue to experiment blending her two fixations: finance and photography.
She has art projects and shows scheduled through her graduation in May and into summer, some most likely with titles hinting of her Wharton background, like her past works “Business Nude,” “Stock Performance” and “Gold Glitched.”
And in the meantime, I will continue to try to wrap my brain around this speculation.