The fun thing about concept art is that it’s totally easy to create. You can say something about the increasingly virtual way many of us are experiencing the world and the explosive popularity of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) – or seem to be saying something profound, anyway – simply by staging a Central Park around a cube of 24-carat gold.
At least that’s what German pop artist Niclas Castello did. His “Castello Cube”, cast from more than 400 pounds of Nevada gold, appeared in a sheet of slush in front of the Naumburg Bandshell on Wednesday, preceded by an over-the-top marketing campaign that included a wrap-around ad in the morning edition of The New York Times. The artist’s associated NFTs and even a new digital currency, Castello Coin, will drop later in the month. The artist has privately sold enough pieces to finance this project, according to Marina Dertnig, a member of the production team. The cube is not solid through and through: it has a hollow core. But gold alone is worth over $10 million at current prices. And Castello, 43, underlined the rarity of the cube as an art object by displaying it for just one day and promising it would not be sold.
When I visited, the cube was surrounded by a steady trickle of onlookers, some of whom had come to view the art and others drawn in by the crowd itself. “I like a group of people looking at a box,” said Isabel Robin, actress and tour guide.
After all, the last time New Yorkers got to see so much of gold in public dates back to 2016-2017, when Maurizio Cattelan installed his 18-karat gold toilet, “America”, at the Guggenheim Museum.
Some visitors to Central Park have been swayed by the beauty of the material. “The reflections are amazing,” said Brigitte Bentele, a retired watercolourist and educator, “and putting it there in the snow looks really inspired.” Others, such as a private security guard, Jamel Rabel, were appalled by the discrepancy between the hyperbolic advertisements for the coin – “Never before in the history of mankind has such an amount of gold been cast in a single pure object” – and its somewhat more modest presence. “It’s pretty simple,” he said.
I would say they are both right. From a few feet away, the top face of the cube seemed as slippery and delicate as a splash of rainwater, reflecting the treeline. As I approached, I found a few small black marks left in the soft metal by the compressed sand the cube had been cast in in Aarau, Switzerland. When the artist team set up pink lights for their camera, the cube appeared to change color from dark copper to bright yellow. The edges looked sharp but also somehow giving. There’s a reason people love gold.
Castello, who hung out on the site, looked chic in black, with long hair and bright blue glasses. In the past he created what he called “cubic paintings” with crumbled canvases in acrylics and became involved in the European street art movement.
But does his current public work add anything to what Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi once said about shiny surfaces in the 1920s-30s with his beautiful abstract bronze birds? Or the exhaustive exploration of cubes by Donald Judd in the 1960s? Does a one-day-only pop-up display really update the events of the 1960s in the Sheep Meadow, or the release of a limited-edition Supreme t-shirt, in any meaningful way? Can it compete with the majestic lines of the saffron orange gates that Christo erected in Central Park in 2005? Does it elucidate the tension between aesthetics and market value, or does it offer new insight into the gold standard 50 years after Nixon scrapped it?
What the “Castello Cube” is really about is the self-sufficient power of capital. If you have the resources to get $10 or $11 million worth of gold from a UBS bank in Switzerland – like Castello did – and then pay a centuries-old bell foundry to shape it into a cube, and finally to ship that cube to the most visible park in the western world’s financial capital, you can get people to watch it, talk about it, and review it – then, in what’s shaping up to be the new gold standard, sell the whole experience as NFT.