Please note that the following review is not an endorsement of purchasing the NFTs discussed, and the author does not themself own any of the collection.
If you’ve heard of one NFT collection over the past week, it’s probably MOTHER OF CREATION. A collaboration between singer-songwriter Madonna and NFT artist provocateur Beeple, the collection has hit the mainstream news thanks to it prominently featuring a highly detailed 3D recreation of the former’s genitalia (yes, really).
MOTHER OF CREATION is described as an “NFT Triptych”, consisting as it does of three separate short looping animated videos that combine graphic computer-generated imagery with spoken audio.
While a collaboration between a bonafide Queen of Pop and a transgressive NFT artist might sound like a match made in hell (Cher and Pak, anyone?), Beeple and Madonna are perhaps the only two members of those categories with enough in common to make it work. That’s because it’s a work that cleaves close to both artists’ oeuvres. Madonna is no stranger to baring her flesh, digital or otherwise. And in Beeple’s case, he has priors with this kind of explicit artwork – think TOXIC MASCULINITY, which paired monumental Jeff Bezos heads with equally monumental male genitalia. So how does MOTHER OF CREATION stand up?
First, let’s set out what each piece consists of. MOTHER OF TECHNOLOGY sees a Madonna reading out the poetry of 13th-century Persian poet Rumi while robotic centipedes (representing technology, the gloss tells us) crawl out of her digital representation into a verdant forest, just as Rumi would have wanted it. MOTHER OF EVOLUTION, meanwhile, sees the same representation of Madonna releasing a swarm of butterflies (no prizes for guessing where from) into an apocalyptic cityscape, while in voiceover she reads lyrics from her 1990 song Justify My Love. Finally, in MOTHER OF NATURE, “an opening gives way to a branch,” as the gloss tactfully puts it, with a tree sprouting and flourishing in a stark and austere laboratory setting.
Apparently, this is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between the pair, which according to Beeple “makes it more special because we thought about it a lot.” One can’t help but feel that if they’d thought about it some more, they might have realised the ways the project is actively working against itself. Based on the titles of the artworks, and Madonna’s own statements (“We set out to create something that is absolutely and utterly connected to the idea of creation and motherhood”), the artists are attempting to provide a commentary on motherhood and its relationship to artistic production. but the sterility of the plastic, Barbie-esque version of Madonna (who is conspicuously non-pregnant) seems directly opposed to that ambition.
It would be more truthful to say that the artists are actually not out to lionise motherhood but to shock instead. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that approach, but in an art form already awash with irony and cynicism, it seems tired and, perversely, distinctly un-shocking.
Meanwhile, the audio that accompanies each piece frames what we are viewing as inspirational (“my journey through life as a woman is like that of a tree,” says Madonna in MOTHER OF TECHNOLOGY). Madonna, however, has a history of putting her foot in her mouth when it comes to attempting to say something profound, and there’s equally a sense here that an attempt at profundity has resulted in something quite empty instead.
Of the three, MOTHER OF NATURE is the most successfully realised. It benefits from seemingly having had the most attention to detail put into it of the three, with original words from Madonna and, weird as it is, some highly detailed animation work on the tree itself. Little wonder it fetched the highest price. MOTHER OF TECHNOLOGY sold for 66.55eth (approximately $135,000 at the time of writing), MOTHER OF EVOLUTION 72.05eth (approximately $147,000) and MOTHER OF NATURE 170.5eth (approximately $346,000). Altogether, that’s almost $630,000.
What can’t be denied is that the proceeds are going to worthy causes. Madonna and Beeple have pledged that all proceeds are going towards three charities, those being the NGO City of Joy, which provides a community for women survivors of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ukraine’s Voices of Children Foundation, which helps women and children affected by the ongoing war in the country, and Black Mama’s Bailout Initiative, which helps women and caregivers spend time with families outside of jail.
MOTHER OF CREATION is not a work that will endear anyone who is sceptical of the reputation for gaudy avarice that surrounds the NFT world, bearing all the hallmarks of bad taste and a distinct lack of subtlety. And while it’s nice that the proceeds are going to charity, that betrays the fact that this is less a serious piece of art, and more a fundraising effort – which is all the more effective the more Madonna and Beeple can generate controversy and get themselves back into the headlines. Be careful not to gaze too long into Madonna’s abyss. Because Madonna’s abyss gazes also into you.