There are few rules in blockchain art. As long as your piece is backed by a token, you can sell anything from hand-drawn OCs to portraits of esteemed Bitcoin advocate Lindsay Lohan.
But Hashmasks have proven that an ungoverned discipline isn’t devoid of principle. How did one art project revolutionize the NFT market practically overnight?
Hashmasks are the work of an eponymous collective composed of more than 70 anonymous artists from around the world. The project’s commissioner, Suum Cuique Labs, is a likewise mysterious entity incorporated in Switzerland only months before the Hashmasks’ debut.
The series boasts 16,384 unique NFTs, each one an enigmatic and garishly-colored portrait of a masked figure. Just four days after Hashmasks hit the market, collectors had snatched up every single one—and there will never be another. True to the spirit of blockchain art, the initial batch is also the last.
To equitably distribute the rarest NFTs, the collective ensured that no prospective buyer knew which was for sale and no owner knew which they had bought. All was to be revealed two weeks later, had things gotten that far.
It’s tempting to sniff at movements that scorn definition. As with Blockchain itself, there’s a widespread assumption that early adopters are mere marks caught up in a fad. People have a long memory for lunch money squandered on holofoil Charizards—but this ain’t that.
Many day one “Hashies” (as their ardent community lovingly calls them) sold for modest sums. By the time they sold out, the Hashmasks had collectively raised more than $10M and become the top collectible dapp on the planet.
Resellers on OpenSea’s peer-to-peer marketplace earned nearly $9M that same week. An ultra-rare demonic Hashmask sold for more than $650k, as others went for a thousand times more than asking price. It pays to be early.
The secret to redefining NFT art is making acquisition its own form of self-expression. Hashmasks are as anonymous as their creators by default. They bear no name or title until the owner bestows one, effectively making “name” a term of art. According to the designers:
“Part of the beauty of Hashmasks comes from the ability to participate in how the art evolves around time.”
Each portrait accumulates ”Name Changing Tokens” that can be saved up and spent to rename your Hashie. While the NFTs themselves can be found for sale on secondary marketplaces like OpenSea, there’s no authorized way to buy NCTs. They can only be collected faster by owning multiple Hashmasks or by trading and collaborating with another owner.
Name changes are fixed at 1,880 NCT a pop, and one Hashmask generates 10 NCT per day. If you’d even managed to snag a single Hashie on day one, you’d have to wait six months just to name your colorful new friend. Lots of time to think about it.
Owners can claim Name Changing Tokens from all Hashmasks in their wallet at the touch of a button—or not.
Unless collected, NCTs remain affiliated with the Hashmask that created them. Owners are free to sell Hashmasks with their NCTs in tow, thereby giving someone else the chance to name a piece of Hashie history.
Holding a Hashmask isn’t an investment; it’s a relationship. You have to ponder its visage to know who it really is. And since no two Hashmasks can bear the same name, you’d better hope another Hashie hasn’t walked off with your prize nickname.
One day, unnamed Hashmasks might be the rarest kind.
The value of a Hashmask isn’t easily discerned, and that’s by design. Their rarity is both “explicit” and “implicit.” While the artists are candid about the conceits of the former, they leave the latter up to you to find out.
Many “explicitly rare” features are obvious. Some Hashies sport animal faces, while others wear ceremonial masks. A subset carries personal totems like favorite literary novels, beer bottles, or gilded toilet paper. Like real life, you’ll find more human beings than robots (at least until Judgment Day).
When it comes to further distinctions, the devil’s in the details. Implicit rarity is determined by what makes it onto the page, be it aberrant aliasing on a Sanskrit message, hidden allusions to Moby Dick, or a backdrop that seamlessly blends with another Hashmask.
Implicit traits are increasingly being recognized, indexed, and valued by the community. What new implicit traits have you found? Which are the rarest? pic.twitter.com/FDUdT4Zvvx
— Hashmasks (@TheHashmasks) February 10, 2021
Implicit rarity gives Hashmasks more than market value. Baked into each Hashmask is an existential question just waiting to be found. The community gleefully pores over the tiniest pixels in the frame to understand what their Hashies are and what they represent.
In leaving the works nameless, Hashmasks have codified the very act of art appreciation. Finite NCT generation makes every portrait ephemeral and eternal all at once—the Hashie John of today might become Peter or Paul tomorrow. But when the last NCT has been spent, there will be no take-backs.
#Hashmasks #warandpeace As humans we created War, and the future will offer Peace through the technology that serves us.... Let us drink and celebrate the beautiful technology that has created such masterpieces.
The set is ready to be hung! pic.twitter.com/srhnOwqUjc
— Paul Comerford (@PaulComerford) [February 11, 2021](https://twitter.com/PaulComerford/status/1359686195781992449)
Shortly after the sale, the Hashmasks collective released a process tell-all detailing the hours-long production phase behind the monumental work. But if you’re looking for clues to better understand your Hashie, you’ll have to start hunting in the frame.
Basquiat's influence on @TheHashmasks is palpable
Looking forward to hanging a few of these on LCD's in the new office pic.twitter.com/y2Ds0llpkM
— Vance Spencer (@pythianism) February 1, 2021
Most Hashmasks share the same rudimentary body, differentiated only by varied skin tones, tattoos, and alloys. Aside from a handful whose faces are fully concealed, they share a pair of haunting and unwavering eyes that harken to Picasso’s African masks.
Conventional inspirations set Hashmasks apart from other popular NFTs. Fauvist execution recalls the violence of Derain’s portrait of Matisse. Subjects luxuriate in the anti-naturalist hues of late Van Gogh. And it’s impossible to ignore the influence of collage on the illusory world they inhabit.
Unlike meme NFT art, which trades on absurdism and pop-culture mashups, Hashmasks drink from the same chaotic font as Basquiat’s untitled heads. As products of a hive mind, the Hashies draw from countless artistic influences to produce a many-throated answer to everything that's come before.
It is like the #hashmasks are looking deep into your soul with 'em dark brown eyes. They will serve well as the window to your digital soul. https://t.co/b7rVhOIFWX
— Hashmasks (@TheHashmasks) January 28, 2021
Collectors carry the standard of the artists’ provocations. When you begin to scan minute details for meaning, abstract concepts paradoxically become the most intimate. For NFT artists, life is a deadly serious but playful search.
What does it mean to be a tangible being? Are we more than an amalgam of our influences, reading lists, and favored words, or just human mulchers of meaning, forcing the reediest slices through the channels of our own masks?
It’s not a leap to suggest it’s you behind the mask. The artists call Hashmasks “windows to the soul”—stoic stand-ins for your digital identity in a constellated world.
The Latin expression suum cuique—“to each his own”—has its origins in Greek principles of justice, especially where equal protections and property rights were concerned. You couldn't think of a more fitting name for the shadow organization behind Hashmasks.
The collective recently launched a community grant program to reward proposals to expand the project. The grant offers up to $10,000 for anything that amplifies the volume or makes the movement more inclusive—including games, Snapchat filters, and new art that builds on Hashie lore.
Throughout the day, there are more than a thousand people active in the Hashmasks Discord, trading DIY Hashie memes and getting involved however they can. They've rallied to create MaskDAO, an organization dedicated to commissioning NFT art (modeled on Hashmask economics) and creating a decentralized marketplace for tomorrow's blockchain artists.
Just as cryptocurrency reminds us what money should be, Hashmasks remind us that art is a locus of communication. We're all participants in the things we adore. Even if there won’t be any more, we'll hear from the Hashmasks again.