Sotheby’s Nets $17 Million With Its First-Ever NFT Auction (Which Included Almost 20,000 Very Fungible Works)

Thousands of buyers eagerly snapped up the anonymous artist Pak's $500 "cubes," which were made in an open edition.

Pak's The Switch (2021) sold for $1.4 million with 10 bidders chasing. Courtesy of Sotheby's and Pak.

In the fast-moving world of NFTs, it seems like everyone except for a handful of the initiated have to learn to speak a brand new language every day.

Take Sotheby’s announcement yesterday that its first-ever NFT auction of digital works by the anonymous artist Pak, conducted with the digital sales platform Nifty Gateway, took in a total of $17 million across a three-day sale.

That seems simple enough.

But the auction, coyly titled “The Fungible,” was made up of multiple moving parts, the first of which was a sale of $500 open-edition (err… fungible) “cubes” that buyers eagerly snapped up.

On the sale’s opening day, 19,737 “cubes” sold in only 15 minutes for a startling $9.9 million. In total 3,080 unique buyers purchased “cubes,” achieving a total of $14 million over the course of three days. 

Pak's Single Cube (2021). Courtesy of Sotheby's and Pak.

Pak’s Single Cube (2021). Courtesy of Sotheby’s and Pak.

But wait, there’s more.

Beyond the “cubes,” Sotheby’s and Nifty Gateway also sold some actual NFTs (unique digital artworks).

One, title The Switch, went for $1.4 million with 10 bidders chasing. The Pixel, meanwhile sold for $1.36 million with 12 bidders duking it out. The latter work was the focus of a 90-minute bidding war before the hammer finally came down.

Amid that battle, Pak tweeted an image of two identical snails.

Unlike traditional top-ten lists at auctions, where buyers are identified only as “anonymous” or with some designation of their geographical location, Sotheby’s included Nifty Gateway handle names in its final report. In the end, The Switch sold to a user going by @damian, while The Pixel now belongs to @etyoung.

The results are “a testament to the depth and spirit of the digital art and NFT community,” said Sotheby’s co-head of contemporary art day sales, Max Moore, in a statement after the sale.

Nifty Gateway, in its own statement, praised Sotheby’s and “all they have done for the art community over the span of almost 300 years.”

“We are so pleased that they are one of the earliest adopters from the traditional and fine art world to enter the NFT space,” the digital platform said of the auction house.

In a release following the sale, the artist offered a cryptic and simplistic comment: “Hello Digital :]”

“I believe we have placed a huge milestone for digital creatives,” the artist said when asked to elaborate. “This drop validates many things.”

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