How much is an afikomen worth? How about $4,200?
That’s what a digital artwork by the Jewish San Francisco artist fnnch (pronounced “finch”) went for at a recent Passover benefit for the local nonprofit Value Culture, run by Adam Swig.
“The most hyped-up piece of matzah ever,” Swig said with a laugh. “The most expensive piece of matzah ever!”
The matzah art was worth that much because it was a non-fungible token, or NFT, a type of digital marker that has taken the art world by storm. The term “non-fungible” means unique, in that there’s only one of it, just like an original painting.
Of course, the afikomen artwork is just as reproducible as any image (it may be copyrighted, but people break copyright all the time, especially online). But what makes it special is that the file is clearly identifiable and sellable using a technology called blockchain. Art NFTs can trade at an auction for millions, as a recent NFT art piece by the artist Beeple recently did, selling at Christie’s for $69 million.
“We are taking this ancient [Passover] tradition and moving it to the blockchain,” Swig said.
Swig came up with the idea for the afikomen with his friend Mikey Fischer. “We were talking about NFTs and joking around — where’s the Jewish NFTs? Where’s the matzah NFT for Passover?”
Swig saw no reason to keep it theoretical and went to fnnch with the concept of a Passover art piece, which would have two NFT images. One, showing half a broken matzah, was auctioned off during the Value Culture Passover event on March 28. The event, co-hosted by Buzzfeed, was held on the new audio-based social media platform Clubhouse and brought together celebrities from actors Tiffany Haddish and Tori Spelling to musician Úyanga Bold and Holocaust survivor Marie Doduck.
The other image, which depicted the other half of the matzah, was hidden — in true afikomen style.
Swig concealed it in a made-up profile (“Miriam,” for Moses’ sister, with a profile showing an interest in anti-slavery work) that contained clues, a matzah emoji and a link to the NFT, potentially worth thousands of dollars.
It took Stephanie Block of S.F., one of around 43,000 attendees, about three hours to find the hidden profile.
“It was really hard,” Swig admitted.
“This is meant to be a fun reimagining of the hiding of the afikomen, a tradition that is literally thousands of years old,” fnnch wrote on Instagram. He added that the NFTs were carbon-neutral, or offset, in that the environmental cost of creating them was balanced by carbon trading credits. NFTs, like all blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies, require a lot of computing power to maintain.
An artist known for the S.F. honey bears dotting the city, fnnch recently sold an NFT piece with an accompanying print for around $65,000 (it showed three of the iconic bears, meant to represent well-known tech execs). He prefers to call himself a maker of “uncommissioned public artwork” rather than a graffiti artist, although in a 2017 interview he admitted that the terms are hard to pin down. “It’s hard to define because it’s like defining what’s Jewish, which is a race, a culture and a religion. It’s the same with graffiti,” he said. “It’s a style, a culture and it’s a lifestyle.”
Ultimately the matzah NFT went for 2.20 ethereum, a virtual currency that exchanges for $4,236.52 (as of this writing).
The money went to support Value Culture’s mission, which is to produce artistic and cultural events that give back to the community.
Swig’s nonprofit used to involve a lot of in-person events, but now he has pivoted to online for the duration of the pandemic, using Clubhouse to host everything from a Holocaust survivor talk to “Soul Vey,” a Black-Jewish solidarity Shabbat.
“We are having fun with our culture,” he said. “We ‘value’ it.”