NFTs just reached a new level of expensive.
The priciest NFT to date, a digital collage by artist Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple, sold for $69.3 million at Christie’s on Thursday. The auction, the first of its kind for any auction house, brings NFTs into the mainstream art world. Beeple’s second-highest sale occurred last month, when he sold an artwork for $6.6 million on NFT marketplace Nifty Gateway— about a tenth of his record-breaking price.
The sale is so high, in fact, that Beeple has become the third-most expensive living artist behind Jeff Koons and David Hockney. Works by Salvador Dalí, Frida Kahlo, or Paul Gaugin have never sold at such a high price.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are digital assets (such as artwork, audio, music, video, or even video game items) that have one specific owner. They typically operate on blockchains like Ethereum, which is Beeple’s blockchain of choice. Because of their exclusivity, NFTs have taken off in the crypto world, before being adopted by celebrities like Paris Hilton, Jack Dorsey, and Grimes. Now they’ve taken the art world by storm.
Beeple’s NFT, titled “The First 5000 Days,” is a collage of nearly 14 years’ worth of the artist’s daily illustrations. The images range from hand-drawn portraits of the artist’s family to surreal, dystopian digital renderings of pop culture icons and politicians. One example of Beeple’s more recent work is a portrait of Kim Jong-Un dressed as Buzz Lightyear, with the addition of a giant Pikachu helmet and robot breasts.
The 41-year-old Beeple, based in Minnesota, wasn’t making much money from his art until he got into NFTs four months ago. He had been working as a web designer and freelance digital artist for years, even collaborating with Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga on music videos and concert imagery. His surreal artwork caught the attention of crypto enthusiasts before reaching the broader art market.
The auction represents a first for Christie’s, which estimated the NFT to sell for around $20 million. It’s also a first for Beeple, who expressed his surprise on Twitter minutes after the sale was made: “Holy fuck.”
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