‘It’s All Happening’: As an NFT Artwork by Beeple Sells for $6.6 Million, Market Observers Are Torn Between Jubilation and Alarm
Within the space of an hour, a work on offer at Christie's jumped from $100 to $1 million.
The buzz was deafening following Christie’s recent announcement that it would offer the first-ever purely digital artwork at auction: Everydays—The First 5000 Days by Mike Winkelmann, an artist who goes by the name Beeple.
Shortly after bidding opened at around $100 at 10 a.m. on Thursday, it was clear something unusual was afoot. Within the first eight minutes of the online-only sale, the auction house said, it received bids from 21 hopeful buyers—18 of whom were entirely new to Christie’s. In the space of an hour, the price had jumped from $100 to $1 million. By press time, the current bid stood at $2.4 million.
There are 13 days left in the sale.
Alex Rotter, Christie’s head of 20th and 21st century art, swiftly took to Instagram to gloat. “#Beeple leads the way,” he wrote. “It’s all happening.”
The frenzied bidding is the culmination of a two-week period in which NFTs shifted from a niche pursuit to a global obsession. On Wednesday evening, Nifty Gateway, an online marketplace for digital art (which just happens to be owned by the Winklevoss twins), announced that a digital work first sold in October for $66,666.66, an animation titled Crossroad, had just traded hands for 1,000 times that sum: a price of $6.6 million.
“The extraordinary response that we witnessed in the first 24 hours of this sale is a testament to Beeple’s importance as a digital artist, and the monumental nature of the work,” Noah Davis, the specialist at Christie’s New York behind the Beeple sale, told Artnet News. “[It] suggests that we have only seen the very tip of the iceberg for digital art, which will surely reshape the art world as we now know it.”
Confused? You’re not alone. Beeple’s digital images carry what is known as an NFT or a “non-fungible token,” a unique digital token encrypted with the artist’s signature and individually identified on a blockchain, effectively verifying the rightful owner and authenticity of the creation.
As for all those “6’s” in the price tags, according to a recent Beeple profile in Esquire, it’s apparently just… a weird NFT thing. “One collector told me there is an ‘underlying art to bidding style’ that involves both numerology and a little bit of peacocking,” the magazine stated. Winkelmann added his own theory: “This relates to the sort of ‘cryptography’ side of the space. The blockchain is really sort of like a giant number puzzle. I think that’s why you often see a much bigger emphasis placed on special numbers.”
Who, exactly, is Beeple? Nearly 14 years ago, on May 1, 2007, the artist, whose work focuses on society’s alternating obsession with and fear of technology, set a goal to create and publish a new artwork online every day. These works, known as “Everydays,” are offered as a composite in the Christie’s sale.
Beeple himself seems to be enjoying the ride. On Instagram under his cheeky handle @beeple_crap, he posted a story showing his amazement, with a large screen behind him depicting the action at Christie’s.
There’s no arguing that Beeple’s practice and imagery is decidedly intricate. Crossroad, the recent record-setting $6.6 million piece, was first offered in October with a heads up that the image would change depending on who won the US presidential election.
Meanwhile, the Esquire profile included a detailed breakdown of what it takes to produce these wild images (which have also been criticized for their impact on the environment): “Cables run from his computer monitor to the bathroom next door through a crude hole in the wall. Doing the work it takes to render 3D animation, his computers give off so much heat that he’s had to put them on a wood platform over the bathtub, and he jury-rigged an industrial AC unit over the sink that vents into the attic.”
Perhaps it should have been telling that, earlier this week, a decidedly less sophisticated NFT, Nyan Cat—a wildly popular decade-old GIF of a pixelated gray cat with a pop tart-body who streaks across an equally pixelated starry sky—pulled in a whopping 300ETH, or roughly $561,000. The price shot up in the final 30 minutes of bidding from 15ETH (roughly $18,000) after having started around 3ETH ($5,000).
Which is all to say: Keep your eye on the Beeple at Christie’s.
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