Christie’s becomes digital art pioneer with sale of NFT artwork

Christie’s is to become the first major auction house to sell a standalone NFT (Non-Fungible Token) work of art.

Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ (2021), a digital artwork by Beeple, will be auctioned online between 25 February and 11 March 2021. In a sign that Christie’s is charting new territory in the digital art market, it is offering Beeple’s work with an “unknown” estimate and bidding will start at US$100 (£72).

The winning bidder will receive a file encrypted with Beeple’s signature and the work’s unique digital token or NFT, will be registered to the buyer on the blockchain, a decentralised database. The blockchain provides a permanent record of the purchase and proof of ownership. This means that unlike in the case of some traditional artworks, NFT artwork provenance is public and incontrovertible.

Unlike Christie’s last foray into the digital art world, when it sold a painting created by AI, this time the work going under the hammer is purely digital. It is a pixellated work comprised of 5000 individual images created by and published online by Beeple every day since 1 May 2007.

According to the lot essay, the monumental collage stitches together ‘abstract, fantastical, grotesque, and absurd pictures, alongside current events and deeply personal moments’. The images explore ‘society’s obsession with and fear of technology; the desire for and resentment of wealth; and America’s recent political turbulence’.

South Carolina-based Beeple (born Mike Winkelmann in 1981) is a digital artist and graphic designer. He has created concert visuals for artists including Childish Gambino, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry and garnered 1.8 million followers on Instagram. In December 2020, he sold a collection of 20 works for US$3.5 million (£2.5 million).

NFT artworks have seen a surge in popularity over the past few years and especially in recent months. Christie’s specialist in post-war and contemporary art, Noah Davis, believes millennials are driving the phenomenon. A major segment of the NFT market is comprised of those who have never before bought at traditional art auctions.

Tech moguls are also getting in on the market. SpaceX and Tesla chief executive, Elon Musk, and former Facebook executive and current chief executive of Social Capital technology holding company, Chamath Palihapitiya have also recently invested in NFT art. However, Davis points out that NFT buyers include a generation of stalwart art collectors “who have long awaited the advent of the market for digital art”.

But are NFT artworks really a credible contender in the art market? Far from a passing fad, Davis believes they could become the next big thing. “Not unlike the advent of Street Art as a blue chip collecting category, NFT-based art is on the threshold of becoming the next ingeniously disruptive force in the art market,” he said in a statement.

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