Public Key / Private Key

Jennifer and Kevin McCoy's Public Key / Private Key explores museums' ownership of art and the role of donors in building museum collections. For this project, the artists donated an original artwork, a 16mm film, to the Whitney Museum's Special Collection on behalf of members of the public. Visitors to the project page can register their names and explain why they would be interested in becoming a donor. Fifty of them will be chosen by the artists on the basis of the originality of their submission.

The acquisition of an artwork for a museum collection typically ends the work's market life, permanently associating the donor with the gift. With Public Key / Private Key, the artists extend that market life: each donor receives a digital certificate, which they are free to transfer, gift, or sell at will. The digital certificates are based on a blockchain, a technology also used in cryptocurrencies to ensure the uniqueness of a transaction. The blockchain becomes a method of recording the work's provenance as the list of fifty donors evolves through the transfer of the digital certificates over time. The changing list of donors will be tracked for six months on The Public Key / Private Key film also has a blockchain key embedded in it and, should it be shown as part of an exhibition at the Whitney Museum, the first audience member to take note of and submit the key to the artists will become the fifty-first donor of record. Public Key / Private Key complicates the traditional relationship between museum, benefactor, and audience, turning the public into donors as well as viewers, able to trade and transfer their title.

Donors for Public Key / Private Key will be recorded through November 4.

Enter Project

Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s multimedia artworks examine the genres and conventions of filmmaking, memory, and language. They are well-known for constructing subjective databases of narrative material and making fragmentary miniature film sets with lights, video cameras, and moving sculptural elements to create live cinematic events.

The McCoys' work has been widely exhibited in the U.S. and internationally at venues including the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; BFI (British Film Institute), London; Hannover Kunstverein; the Beall Center, Irvine, CA; pkm Gallery, Beijing; the San Jose Museum of Art; Palazzo della Papesse, Siena; the Addison Museum of American Art, Andover, MA; the Sundance Film Festival, and Artists Space, New York. Their work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the 21C Museum; and the Speed Museum, Louisville, KY. They received a Creative Capital Award in 2003, the Wired Rave Award for Art in 2005, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011, and a Headlands Alumni Award in 2014.


See more on Artport, the Whitney Museum's portal to Internet and new media art.

In the News

"Artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy combine an essay contest, a mysterious film, and a blockchain to shift the debate about arts patronage."