On Christmas Day, an artwork that has been at the center of one of the year’s greatest art mysteries will go on the auction block.
It’s the capstone to a saga that has gripped a nation. A mural based on the drawing of Cookie Monster, which appeared briefly on the side of a commercial building in Peoria, Illinois, last month, has become a sensation—an internet-famous symbol of misunderstood public art and the value of a good prank.
The proceeds of the drawing’s sale, according to the consignor, will go to two causes: St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and commissioning public art projects.
The saga began when a man claiming to be Nate Comte, owner of 1301 NE Adams Ave, paid local artist Josh Hawkins to paint a mural over Thanksgiving weekend. Based on a drawing provided by the patron, it pictured a gargantuan Cookie Monster holding aloft a cookie sending forth rainbow-hued rays, all above the Russian text “Peace, Land, Cookies.” The mural echoed the visual bombast of Soviet propaganda art, and the caption riffed on the Bolshevik slogan “Peace, Land, Bread.”
When the real Nate Comte discovered the mural, he accused Hawkins himself of vandalizing the building. He swiftly whitewashed the mural—but not before it went viral, earning him hate mail and loads of internet scorn. A detractor even spray-painted the words “F*ck Real Nate” on the side of the building, which become a pilgrimage site for fans of the OG mural to leave stuffed animals, candles, and bottles of beer.
As the mythic mural received coverage from the to Gizmodo, Fake Nate—whose identity remains unknown—has remained silent.
On Twitter, at midnight this morning, via the brand-new account @Arterrorizm (five followers at time of writing), he offered what he says is the original drawing in a crypto auction. Titled “I’ve Seen the Future and It Twerks” RIP, the drawing is signed “Fake Nate 2020 ❤︎ xoxo.” He notified Artnet News of the sale via email.
Bidding will take place from noon to 6 p.m. Eastern time on Christmas Day. Aspiring buyers should email [email protected] for instructions on how to bid.
The real Nate Comte declined to comment on Fake Nate’s charity auction via text—but he hasn’t been quiet about the hassle the whole situation has caused him. Long-suffering Real Nate has been communicating with the public via Facebook, where he launched an open call for proposals to replace the mural. He has described the project, dubbed “Graffiti Replacement Mural,” as a gesture of goodwill to the artistic community.
“I am not pressing charges and no one is going to be arrested for this vandalism,” he pleaded online, “so please tell people to stop pretending I am the villain.”
Predictably, however, wiseacres have cropped up with tongue-in-cheek suggestions. There have been numerous proposals for the original “Peace, Land, Cookies” mural (though commenters say Comte scrubbed them from the page).
One Rod Boothby suggested a mural of Cookie Monster in the form of Hokusai’s print The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, the blue water echoing the Muppet’s fur, the wave topped by his trademark googly eyes.
Two other sharp suggestions, which were removed after Artnet News saved the images, have also appeared.
One: the poster for the 1981 musical heist comedy The Great Muppet Caper.
The other: an image of Rudy Giuliani and his henchmen at their infamous November 7 press conference claiming widespread election fraud at Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Total Landscaping. The proposal superimposes a meme upon a meme, its layers of meaning too complex to unravel here.
The drawing itself is a thing of beauty. Dear reader, I confess to you that all this time, as I have obsessed over who Fake Nate might be, and what this particular imagery might signify about the relationship between Fake Nate and Real Nate, a key aspect of the artwork escaped my notice.
And that is this: Cookie Monster is shooting a rainbow-hued ray at the distant skyline, and that skyline is turning into cookie. Cookie Monster’s desire for cookie is so voracious that he will destroy an entire city in order to get more cookie.
“It’s pretty funny,” said Hawkins, the artist, reached by phone. “I’m surprised he’s reappeared.”
Hawkins wondered how Fake Nate could continue to commission public art projects, as he promised to do with the funds, while remaining anonymous. Perhaps he would just keep pranking other artists to paint unauthorized murals on other landlords’ buildings.
Hawkins had briefly thought of hiring a sketch artist to draw Fake Nate based on his recollections of his features as a way to track him down. But he hasn’t followed through.
“The more I think about it,” he said, “I don’t even know if I want him to be caught.”