A collection of images by digital artist Beeple called “The First 5000 Days” is currently up for auction. It is the first fully-digital set of art pieces protected with a unique non-fungible token (NFT) that guarantees its authenticity and is currently bidding for $3 million.
The idea behind placing value on purely digital art isn’t new, but its current popularity is soaring. The NFT is a special type of cryptographic token that represents something unique. They are used to create verifiable digital scarcity as well as track ownership of digital items. They are used primarily in digital art, collectibles, and online gaming.
“Art was an early use case for NFTs, and blockchain in general, because of its ability to provide proof of authenticity and ownership of digital art that has otherwise had to contend with the potential for mass reproduction and unauthorized distribution of art through the internet,” Wikipedia explains.
In this case, Beeple’s 13-and-a-half year collection of images is being offered as a single lot sale and is the first time that Christie’s has offered a purely digital work. Christie’s is also accepting cryptocurrency as payment for the art, another first for the auction house.
Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, has sold digital assets before. According to Reuters, last year Winkleman sold a 10-second video artwork that could have been watched for free online for $67,000 to a Miami-based art collector named Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile. In late February, Rodriguez-Fraile sold it for $6.6 million.
The idea of NFT has exploded in popularity amid the Coronavirus Pandemic, as Reuters reports enthusiasts and investors have been scrambling to spend enormous sums on items that only exist online.
“You can go in the Louvre and take a picture of the Mona Lisa and you can have it there, but it doesn’t have any value because it doesn’t have the provenance or the history of the work,” Rodriguez-Fraile told Reuters. “The reality here is that this is very, very valuable because of who is behind it.”
The substantial growth in value of Winklemann’s video in such a short period of time has likely propped up the value of the rest of his work, resulting in the $3 million current bid for his collection of still images.
In EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS, the artist has stitched together recurring themes and color schemes into an aesthetic whole. The individual pieces are organized in loose chronological order: zooming in reveals pictures by turn abstract, fantastical, grotesque or absurd, deeply personal or representative of current events. Recurring themes include society’s obsession with and fear of technology; the desire for and resentment of wealth; and America’s recent political turbulence.
One market for NFT content, OpenSea, told Reuters that it had seen monthly sales volume grow to $86.3 million in February alone, up from $8 million in January. Monthly sales a year ago were just $1.5 million.
Some investors caution that this wild increase could represent a price bubble that is poised to pop, but that clearly hasn’t dissuaded bidding on Winkelmann’s still image collection.
Christie’s says that NFTs and blockchain technology have enabled collectors and artists to verify the rightful owner and authenticity of digital art, and The First 5000 Days collection is a milestone in that endeavor.
“Everydays: The First 5000 Days will be delivered directly from Beeple to the buyer, accompanied by a unique NFT encrypted with the artist’s unforgeable signature and uniquely identified on the blockchain,” Christie’s writes. “MakersPlace, a digital marketplace, has issued the NFT for the piece.”
Until now, Beeple’s works have dropped solely on blockchain-backed marketplaces. According to Christie’s, in December 2020, Beeple’s work The Complete MF Collection which consisted of 20 pieces saw a value of $3.5 million.
Bidding started on February 25 and will end on March 11.
Image credits: Images copyright Christie’s Images Limited 2020 and used per conditions.