A piece of digital art sold for $69.3 million at Christie’s Thursday morning, a record amount money paid for a new but booming category of art called nonfungible tokens or NFTs. It quickly places the artist known as Beeple in a rarified world previously occupied only by artists creating physical work.
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“Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” by Beeple, a 41-year-old illustrator from Wisconsin, was a collage of 5,000 images the artist made over as many days. Its eight-figure sale represents the latest height in a mounting frenzy for NFTs, a type of digital media built on the blockchain that has catapulted to mainstream attention—and demand—over the past two months.
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With 30 minutes to go in the Christie’s auction, “5,000 Days” hadn’t topped $15 million, but a flurry of last-minute bids sent its price skyrocketing. The two-week online auction originally commenced bidding at $100. The $69.3 million price tag put on the piece is far more than market participants thought it could fetch even amid surging interest in NFTs. It also vastly outstrips the previous record for a Beeple work: the $6.6 million paid last week for a 10-second video.
On Twitter, Beeple posted a two-word response a few minutes after the auction ended: “Holy f—k.”
The composite’s sale is not just a standout in the NFT world but in the broader art market, too. It is the third-most expensive work from a living artist ever sold at auction—behind only $90.3 million spent on a David Hockney painting in 2018 and the $91.1 million for Jeff Koons’ stainless-steel Rabbit sculpture in 2019.
“What an extraordinary moment,” says Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, a Miami art collector. He was the one to sell the then-record setting Beeple video clip last week and participated in the early bids for “5,000 Days.” “I believe it serves as clear validation that digital art is as important as what we know as traditional art with Beeple its clear leader and symbol.”
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“5,000 Days” was the first completely digital NFT sold by Christie’s, and the first-time the centuries-old auction house agreed to accept payment in Ethereum, a popular cryptocurrency. (Last year, it sold another NFT that come with a physical work too; the piece by the British artist Robert Alice sold for what will today seem like a pittance, just $131,250.) The final minutes of the Beeple auction on Thursday drew several million visitors to nftgamef.com from 11 countries. Unsurprisingly given the rapacious sale, Christie’s quickly said it expects to hold more digital art sales in the future. The auction house will collect some portion of the $69.3 million, likely more than 10% with the majority of the proceeds going to Beeple.
Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, has posted an image online every day since 2007, and the work sold at Christie’s is a collection of these software-drawn pictures, many of them cheeky indictments of our modern, tech-obsessed lives. He was little known until 2020, though he had done collaborations with large brands like Louis Vuitton, Nike and Coca-Cola. His so-called Everdays are often set on alien worlds—or possibly on an alien-looking Earth, where commercialism and people have run amuck.
Led by Beeple, the NFT market has now exceeded more than $400 million in transactions during 2021, several fold more than occured during all of last year. Much of that has flowed to NBA TopShot, a trading-cards site using NFT technology. But celebrities such as Grimes, the electronic dance music star 3LAU, the YouTuber Logan Paul and Lindsay Lohan have all offered up their own tokens, and billionaires Mark Cuban and Jack Dorsey have turned their tweets into NFTs and sold them off. And in another clear sign of the mounting mania, the second-most expensive NFT ever sold traded hands less than 24 hours ago, a CryptoPunk, one of the most popular NFT collectibles. It went for $7.5 million.
“What’s happening now is there is a mad scramble by the traditional art world first to understand really what it is that we’re looking at. And then to to figure out where they fit in, how they can support it, how they can participate,” says Jehan Chu, a Hong Kong-based art consultant and founder of Kenetic Capital, a crypto investment firm. “What we’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg.”