Mike Winkelmann never used to call himself an artist. But that was before he made $3.5 million in a single weekend from selling his artworks. In December, he auctioned off multiple editions of three digital artworks, each priced at $969, and 21 unique works, most of which sold for about $100,000 each. It was only the second time he had put his art on sale.
The digital artist, who goes by Beeple, has created a drawing every single day for the last 13 years. He started with pen and paper but now mostly uses computer software such as the program Cinema 4D. On Thursday, a two-week-long online auction of a composite of the first 5,000 days of the project will begin at Christie’s, which says it’s the auction house’s first sale of a solely digital artwork. It will also be the first time that Christie’s will accept payment in the cryptocurrency Ether.
Beeple is selling these works as NFTs — nonfungible tokens — digital collectibles that use blockchain technology as authentication. An NFT can take any form, but for Beeple, it usually consists of an image or video file, sometimes with a physical object attached, verified with a digital signature on a blockchain. NFTs cleverly respond to the art world’s need for authentication and provenance in an increasingly digital world, permanently linking a digital file to its creator. It makes digital artworks unique, and therefore, sellable.
The speculative market for NFTs has skyrocketed in the last 12 months, and continues to grow. According to the NFT Report 2020, published by L’Atelier BNP Paribas and Nonfungible.com, the value of the NFT market tripled in 2020, putting its current value over $250 million. Now, the same investors who speculate on cryptocurrencies are trading wildly increasing volumes of NFTs on websites such as MakersPlace (which is partnering with Christie’s for the Beeple sale), SuperRare, and Rarible, where recent transactions are front and center. Memes and graphic collectibles are sold alongside artworks like Beeple’s, blurring the line between them.
Although it’s the first time that Christie’s will sell a purely virtual work, the art world is familiar with this genre of sale. To take one example, anyone could duct tape a banana to the wall, but it wouldn’t be Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian.” Likewise, someone could easily make a digital copy of Beeple’s “Everydays — The First 5000 Days,” but even though the content would be exactly the same, they wouldn’t own the artwork itself without blockchain verification. NFTs make it possible to collect digital artworks in a similar way to paintings, sculptures or conceptual artwork.
“I don’t know anything about the traditional art world,” said Beeple, a computer science graduate, who only began researching NFTs in mid-October. Though he was a newcomer to both fine art and crypto-art, his “Everydays” project, now 13 years in, has become popular online. He’s amassed a huge following (nearly two…
Read more:Beeple Brings Crypto to Christie’s