Saturday 22 June 2024

The Stormtrooper Scandal


The Stormtrooper Scandal

Ben Moore

Pictured: Ben Moore. Image credit: Stuart Bernard


This stranger-than-fiction new documentary uncovers the tale of an audacious get-rich-quick scheme from inside the art world.


When a London-based curator and artist called Ben Moore announced in 2021 that he was about to launch a sale of digital artworks known as NFTs, with images based on the iconic stormtrooper helmets from Star Wars, interest was sky-high. Buyers and investors around the world competed to own one of these prestigious artworks, many customised by leading contemporary artists. When the sale went live on 6 November 2021, every piece sold out within seconds and Ben and his colleagues became instant millionaires.


But within days, it became clear that all was not what it seemed…


The film has access to key figures at the heart of the story, including Ben Moore, the charismatic London curator at the centre of the apparent con-job, as well as artists who had their work featured without their knowledge, including Jake Chapman, D*Face and Chemical X, as well as the collectors who were caught up in the frenzy - before being left with nothing.


The Stormtrooper Scandal is a story of speculation, greed and betrayal that took place on a new digital frontier - an unregulated world where appearances can be deceptive. But was this a scam, or a well-intentioned bid to make a fast fortune that spiralled out of control?


The Stormtrooper Scandal is a DSP production (part of Banijay UK) for BBC Two and BBC iPlayer. The Producer is Isabelle Rogers, the Director is Stuart Bernard and the Executive Producer is Magnus Temple. The commissioning editor for BBC Arts is Alistair Pegg.


Publicity contact: CB



The Stormtrooper Scandal review – inside the Star Wars art sale that wrecked lives


This look at how a charmless impressario and a bevy of cryptobros made millions from an NFT scheme – only for it to collapse into a legal nightmare – is just mind warping


Lucy Mangan

Thu 20 Jun 2024 22.30 BST


Here’s a tricky ethical conundrum – how much can you command yourself to care about the suffering of a monumental dickhead? Do you say a breezy “Not at all!” and move on with your day? Do you say “I have limited resources and prefer to expend them on non-dickhead entities, ta?” Do you say “No dickhead is all dickhead, just as none of us is entirely free of dickheadery ourselves – thus our common humanity demands of us always a degree of empathy and compassion?” Have a think, then test yourself again at the end of 90 minutes of The Stormtrooper Scandal. Send the results on a postcard to the usual address.


The Stormtrooper Scandal tells the tale of West London art curator Ben Moore, who came a cropper when he moved into the shadowy world of NFTs (non-fungible tokens, here in the form of digital art) and cryptocurrency without, apparently, knowing a damn thing about NFTs, cryptocurrency or the intellectual property that inheres to art of various kinds.


Moore had been putting on Art Wars shows – assemblies of Star Wars stormtrooper helmets customised by various artists, including big names like Damien Hirst, the Chapman brothers and Anish Kapoor – for several years since 2013 for charity. They improved his profile but didn’t bring him in any decent money. What to do, what to do?


Artist Bran Symondson, a friend of Moore’s, introduced him to the idea of selling as NFTs pictures of the helmets he had accrued over the years. As far as I understand it – and the film does such a good job of trying to explain it that if I haven’t then I can only apologise and/or suspect that trying to understand it is a fool’s game – this means taking a picture of a customised Stormtrooper helmet and giving that picture a unique digital identifier on a blockchain (think of it as an invisible watermark) so only one person can “own” it. The owner – or “owner” – can then trade it on the NFT open market with people who also understand or purport to understand what’s going on, what they’re getting and why it’s worth anything at all.


Anyway. Moore finds some “cryptobros” online who can help him with this, commissioning further artists to create non-physical customised helmets (and here I confess, I really do begin to part ways with an understanding of events). He then announces a massive “drop” of these items/non-items, and the hype starts building.


Come the day, the entire collection sells out in five seconds. Furious trading ensues and Moore and the cryptobros take a cut of everything and make (estimated) millions. Then some of the artists become aware that pictures of their work have been taken and sold without permission. To the apparent total surprise of Moore, this matters and ultimately ends in the NFTs becoming worthless. Irate artists, investors – including some ordinary people who can ill afford to lose their money – and lawyers start, and continue to this very day, to make his life a misery.


The question of whether Moore was unlucky, thick, neglectful, incompetent – or worse – is the question that pervades the film. Artist Chemical X calls him “a posh boy chancer”, which is a description that certainly seems to match the vaguely shambolic yet complacent figure who is interviewed about his failures and possible transgressions on screen. Perhaps he was at least partly duped by the crypto team, who disappeared back into the cybershadows without leaving him any way of tracing them (he never learned their real names). Perhaps the greed of investors and their lack of due diligence played their parts. But the idea that Moore didn’t know he was sailing close to the wind seems highly improbable.


Moore’s lazy charmlessness and shifty equivocations on camera don’t help his cause. He was eager to get the project off the ground, he explains, and thought he would sort out “any problems” later rather than risk delay or abandonment. He thinks anyone would have been tempted to do what he did with the prospect of so much money “on the other side”.


Perhaps appropriately, given the heavy online dependencies of everyone involved, a popular phrase (or meme, if memes can be non-visual) from social media keeps running through my mind as the dismal story unfolds – god grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man. It seems to be a bottomless resource, but one without which we might all be better off.


 The Stormtrooper Scandal aired on BBC Two and is available on iPlayer.

No comments: