Christie’s Will Offer 9 Multimillion-Dollar NFT CryptoPunks in Its May Evening Auction. Here’s What That Means

The digital collectibles include a rare alien punk.

Nine CryptoPunks being offered at Christie's 21st Century Evening sale on May 13, 2021. Courtesy of Christie's.
Nine CryptoPunks being offered at Christie's 21st Century Evening sale on May 13, 2021. Courtesy of Christie's.

Christie’s will once more try to catch lightning in the NFT bottle next month, even as recent figures suggest the craze might be waning. 

The auction house announced this week that it will offer up a single lot of nine CryptoPunks—a cultish series of digital characters on the Ethereum blockchain—at its 21st century evening sale on May 13 in New York. It is, unsurprisingly, the first time an NFT has been offered alongside work by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in a marquee auction.

Consigned by Larva Labs, the company that created them, the punks are estimated to fetch $7 million to $9 million. (Christie’s did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s inquiries about how this pre-sale estimate was determined and whether or not the lot would carry a guarantee.)

As with Christie’s record-setting sale of Beeple’s Everydays, which shocked the art world by generating $69.3 million in March, the auction house will accept bids and payment in ether cryptocurrency (as well as that retro thing known as traditional currency). 

Created in 2017 by Larva Labs developers Matt Hall and John Watkinson, CryptoPunks take the form of computer-generated, 24 x 24 pixel portraits—like avatars in an old 8-bit video game.

There are exactly 10,000 unique characters, each with a different combination of facial features, hair types, and other physical traits. Once the project went live, the set could not be altered in any way. Hall and Watkinson offered most of them for free initially, and kept 1,000 for themselves. They are, according to Noah Davis, Christie’s postwar and contemporary art specialist, “the alpha and omega of the CyptoArt movement.”

To some, the punks symbolize the anti-establishment, boundary-breaking spirit of the early days of the blockchain movement, evoking the London punk scene of the 1970s as well as dystopian renderings of the future like Blade Runner.

But their significance isn’t as apparent to others. “When you look at CryptoPunks, are they art?” Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart mused in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “Are they collectibles? Are they… you know, well… what are they exactly?”

While anyone can save a copy of the 10,000 CryptoPunks, their official ownership is, like many other NFTs, recorded on the Ethereum blockchain. (“The system Hall and Watkinson came up with is sometimes compared to owning a work of physical art that’s permanently on loan to a public museum,” Christie’s explained.)

To be sure, $7 million to $9 million is a lot of money to ask for a handful of 8-bit, 24 x 24 pixel portraits. But while such a price may seem to recapitulate the idea that the mad market for NFTs is here to stay, it may actually signal a softening. Keep in mind that just hours before Christie’s Beeple sale last month, a pair of CryptoPunks sold for roughly $7.5 million each. Now, a group of nine are expected to fetch around the same sum. 

Prices for NFTs have dropped precipitously since peaking in mid-February, when the average price for the digital collectibles hovered around $4,000. Last week, that number dropped to $1,400—a 70 percent decline, per Bloomberg. Fortunately for Christie’s, the demand for CryptoPunks remains high: according to Nonfungible.com, there have been 388 sales of CryptoPunks in the last week alone, generating $20.5 million in total sales. 

The auction house’s offering has one other thing going for it, too, which is that the group includes a rare “alien”—a blue-skinned character from a small subset of punks thought to be among the most sought-after. There are 6,039 male punks and 3,840 female punks, but just nine aliens. More exciting still: Christie’s alien is wearing a bandana and sunglasses!


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