Christie’s Sells a $69M NFT

2021 just might be crazier than 2020.

If you know me, you know I love art. My love for art historically has been for physical art, the kind you hang on your wall. Times are rapidly changing and now NFTs have shaken up the auction world. After more than 180 bids in the final hour, a JPG file made by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, was sold on Thursday by Christie’s in an online auction for $69.3 million with fees. The price was a new high for an artwork that exists only digitally, beating auction records for physical paintings by museum-valorized greats like J.M.W. Turner, Georges Seurat and Francisco Goya. Bidding at the two-week Beeple sale, consisting of just one lot, began at $100.

The price of that work is the third-highest for any living artist. Right behind Jeff Koons and David Hockney. There are mixed emotions when a transaction like this occurs. Such a high figure can cause adverse effects for an emerging art market. As well, if you are a collector you know that spending that much money on a living artist is a very risky decision that may come back to hurt you in the long run.

This isn’t the first success story in the NFT world though. “Crossroad” — a 10-second video NFT showing animated pedestrians walking past a giant, naked likeness of Donald J. Trump, collapsed on the ground and covered in graffiti — sold for $6.6 million in Ether on Nifty Gateway. The seller was Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, who had brought the piece in October for about $67,000, according to Reuters.

There’s a lot of art flipping going on which is simply buyers looking to purchase art to immediately go and resell it at an increased price. An anonymous group of “tech and art enthusiasts,” sold a unique NFT consisting of a digital copy of a 2006 Banksy limited-edition print called “Morons.” The group claimed it had destroyed the original print, worth tens of thousands of dollars, in an “art burning ceremony,” shown on YouTube and Twitter. The blockchain-certified “Morons” NFT was all that remained.

Offered on Open Sea, this digital copy of the Banksy sold for about $382,000, more than three times the price that any of the original “Morons” prints have made at auction. The successful bidder was an Open Sea user with the screen name GALAXY, who immediately put the piece up for sale. This is a great example of art flipping and the damaging nature it brings to a new market can be quite steep.

In the art world, where the market for NFTs is more established, the current top-sellers are “CryptoPunks,” a cohort of 10,000 individual algorithm-created characters, 9,000 of which were given away in 2017 for trading and collecting on a dedicated Ether platform. Early the next year, the most sought-after “punks” were selling for about $13,500.

On Wednesday, “CryptoPunk 7804” sold for the equivalent of about $7.6 million in Ethereum, a record for any computer-generated artwork, according to Georg Bak, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Digital Art. The price was five times the previous record for a CryptoPunk, set last month.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this craze yet. It certainly keeps me up thinking that I’m missing out on breaking activity in a market that I can quickly get up to speed on. For now I’m simply watching from the sidelines.

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