A fortnight ago, we reported on a ground-breaking moment in digital art when Christie’s became the first major auction house to sell a standalone NFT (Non-Fungible Token) work of art. With 9 days of the online auction remaining, the current bid on ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ (2021), a digital artwork by Beeple, stands at a staggering US$3 million (£2 million).
But Christie’s foray into the world of NFTs, which allow buyers to acquire ownership of digital art and other media in the form of a unique digital token living on a blockchain, is but one ripple in an ocean of transactions taking place in recent weeks. This includes Grimes’ auction of 10 artworks, which she announced on Twitter a day before the collection went on sale on 1 March 2021.
Grimes, real name Claire Boucher, created the collection, entitled ‘WarNymph Collection Vol 1.’, in collaboration with her brother, Mac Boucher. It includes two short video pieces, ‘Earth’ and ‘Mars’ priced at US$7,500 (£5,400), which feature cherubic, winged creatures floating above the planets as they slowly rotate in starry space. Each piece sold around 300 copies in the 48 hours they were offered for sale.
The highest-selling work at US$388,938 (£279,402) was a one-of-a-kind piece called ‘Death of the Old’. It features flying cherubs, a sword and a cross with an original soundtrack by Grimes. Proceeds from the sale of all 10 artworks totalled almost US$6 million (£4 million).
Proving that NFT art caters to all tastes, Grimes’ works join the likes of the Nyan Cat meme. A one-of-a-kind digital rendition of the meme sold for US$590,000 in an online auction on 19 February 2021. The flying cat with a Pop-Tart for a torso and a rainbow tail set to Japanese pop music debuted on YouTube in 2011 and has over 186 million views.
While NFT sales might allow buyers to support artists by providing them with a percentage of the resale value, not everyone is as excited by the recent boom. Some have criticised NFTs for lacking utility and burdening the environment. The electricity used to power the sale of 303 editions of ‘Earth’ by Grimes is said to have produced 70 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Then there are those critics for whom the entire NFT phenomenon is simply ridiculous. Writing for The Art Newspaper, critic and New York Times contributor, Blake Gopnik, ‘can only see absurdity in the very idea that someone might buy a digital illustration of a rainbow-toting cat, which already exists in millions of identical copies, and pay an extra half-million dollars for their particular copy just because it comes with’.
But then what is the art world without a little absurdity?