The grand finale of the 'I punked the Sotheby's Burning Man auction' saga

I owe you an update on this whole "punking" of the Burning Man Sotheby's auction. What happened next? Well, for one, the final hammer price went over 1000% above its listed value of $100- $200. But let's back up a little.

First, let's recap. In 1997, I brought a box of buttons to Burning Man for "playa gifts." Over the years, those buttons then morphed into legendary status, the playa's first meme. In 2017, the playa's first meme, "Eat Fuck Kill," then became a 20-year anniversary pop-up shop and online museum (which still lives on today). Earlier this year, "Eat Fuck Kill" items were invited to be included in the Sotheby's Burning Man auction as a nod to early Burning Man culture, my "Eat Fuck Kill" items. Those items was shipped to Sotheby's in New York City where it went on display in their physical gallery during the week-long online auction. I didn't make the trip which I later felt terrible FOMO for missing.

Still with me? Ok.

On the gallery's opening day, I begged friends to steal the little sign placed in front of my lot by Sotheby's that read "Do Not Touch." One actually did it! So I whipped up a replacement sign, done in the style of EFK, and had another friend droplift it in front of the lot. At that time, I also minted an NFT of the sign. I made a declaration:

"Sotheby's estimates the value of the lot to be between $100 to $200. As of this writing, bidding is up to $300. Obviously, the addition of the 'Do Not Touch' sign makes it a complete piece and more valuable. Priceless, really, haha. In fact, as the artist, I say it's not complete without the new sign. The work itself is a meme and memes, by nature, evolve. The playa's first meme has evolved awaiting the virtual hammer on October 8. Bid now, bid often."

[If you're lost, that whole story is here.]

Ok, where were we? Ah yes, what happened next?

So, after I wrote that first "punked" post, there were still a few days before the auction actually ended. That meant there was still time to continue the fun. And that's just what I did.

The "punked" post spread quickly throughout my own community of early Burning Man folks and then it moved out further, to the greater Burning Man community. It had reach.

Around this time, I learned of another prank in the auction and wrote about that. I also learned of a new instance of "Eat Fuck Chill," it was spelled out in giant blocks at the 2014 Burn. Then the auction's NFT manager, amused by the prank, paid $30 in ETH to corral the virtual sign in with the others for the duration of the event (I will be getting it back at some point).

screengrab via OpenSea

As word got out, I found myself fielding online comments and tons of direct messages, but also phone calls! It was clear that people were both amused and invested in the story. I printed out a few of the signs and snail mailed them out as notecards to a few folks I thought would appreciate the gesture, including Mark and Carla:

I then asked myself, "What would happen next?" In other words, "Yes, and?" This had turned into some kind of improvisational cross-country performance art and I was into it. At some point, Friend "D" stole another sign for me. I tried to rope him into the fun but he wasn't staying in town around long enough to play.

Then Sotheby's made their move.

Well, me as Sotheby's. A new sign was dropped in front of the lot—made by me—a day before the hammer's final fall. This one read "Do Not Steal This Sign" and was done in the style of the original Sotheby's sign.

I enlisted Stranger "A," an artist who lives in NYC, to droplift that one. He himself had a piece in the auction and subsequently had been spending some time in the gallery. He came across the "Eat Fuck Kill" lot, not knowing me or anything about it, and wondered why the sign matched the art. He even took a picture of his finger touching the sign. Then he came across the "punked" blog post and searched me out. I wasted no time sending him down to FedEx Office to pick up the new signs. The copy job was a mess but he made it work, trimming it correctly on the fly.

Now here's where things got a little sticky.

I shared the newly dropped sign in my personal social feeds and, unexpectedly, nearly everyone thought that Sotheby's was playing along. I guess, in hindsight, my caption didn't help, "Oh, oops. Looks like Sotheby's didn't like their signs getting swiped!"

Ok, in my defense, I had kind of figured that my own community would know me well enough to know I had made the new sign. But they hadn't, so I asked myself again, "Yes, and?"

So, I decided to let everyone have their fun. I let them believe Sotheby's was playing along. Or, rather, I didn't correct them that they weren't. Folks started asking what my next move was going to be, in response to this one. I said that there wasn't enough time, with the time difference and all, to make something new in California and then send it to New York City to be printed and dropped. I knew this was true because I had just cut it real close with the last signs. I didn't know how yet but I would make it right. But after the auction was over.

Energy was buzzing on that Friday morning, the day when all the hammers were dropping on all the lots. One by one. When it was time for Lot 119, I sat here at my desk and started watching it in real time. I think by the time I tuned in, it had reached $600. Then, unbelievably, with time running out, there was a bidding war! I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The countdown ended and then the time started up again with a short minute or so extension! I was texting back and forth with three friends who were also seeing what I was seeing. One of them, Friend "C," aka the friend who stole the first sign, was actually one of the bidders! Already pushed past their self-imposed limit, they lost in the end. I don't know who actually ended up winning but I sure would like to! (HMU if it's YOU, I've got something for you.)

The final countdown. video by Rusty Blazenhoff

Now to make it right. I started printing out some of those faked "Do Not Steal This Sign" signs from "Sotheby's" and sending them out as postcards. For the people who believed they were real, I wrote, "I stole this sign for you!" and for the ones who had it figured it out, I sent them kudos for "being right." I sent out as many as I could, with the addresses I had.

They looked so much better before USPS got to them!

Then I waited. The postal service is particularly slow right now and delivery seemed to take forever. Then, voila! The first postcard arrived, to local friends, and was posted online:

Why, toner, why?!

Revealing the secret of "Sotheby's response" via a postcard was fun for me, and for the recipients. I got to offer one final surprise, and they got be part of it in a real way.

It's fridge worthy!

"Do you get any of the money?"

This is the most frequently asked question I've gotten. The answer to that is "yes!" I had four options when I signed my agreement months ago: 15%, 25%, 55% or donate without taking a cut. I took the 25% and it's calculated on the $1800, not the $2268. That larger number includes 26% of Sotheby's fees. So, all in all, I will get $450 sometime in the future. Not bad!

The folks behind the other prank? Well, theirs ended at $2520. We've got a date to get a fancy dinner together when our auction winnings arrive. December?

images via Rusty Blazenhoff (and accomplices who still wish to remain anonymous)