A collage by the contemporary artist Beeple, composed as a single image file, sold for $69.3m on Thursday, according to Christie’s auction house, the latest and most extreme example of the rapidly appreciating market for digital artwork known as non-fungible tokens.
The sale was the first of its kind by Christie’s, underscoring the eye-popping valuations for NFTs, which are unique files encrypted on blockchain to ensure authenticity.
The collage by Beeple is titled “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”, a single jpeg file composite of digital sketches taken each day for more than 13 years. Bidding opened on February 25 at just $100.
The artist, whose given name is Mike Winkelmann, summarised his reaction to the sale with a tweet: “holy fuck.”
NFTs have exploded in popularity among collectors of sports memorabilia and in the cryptocurrency community in recent weeks. An encrypted 12-second clip of the basketball star LeBron James recently sold on a secondary market for $208,000, in a new venture between the National Basketball Association and the consumer blockchain company Dapper Labs.
The Christie’s sale illustrates the stratospheric potential for NFTs. Noah Davis, specialist in postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s in New York, said the auction house has “never offered a new media artwork of this scale or importance before”.
The price tag on the Beeple sale places him among the top three most valuable living artists, according to Christie’s. It also eclipses prices paid for works by other renowned visual artists, such as the impressionist painter Edvard Munch, whose “Girls on the Bridge” sold for $54m in 2016 by Sotheby’s.
The sale also demonstrates efforts by auction houses to expand their offerings beyond Old Masters and pop artists in order to cultivate a new generation of collectors, particularly millennials.
Last spring, Sotheby’s set a world record for sneakers at auction when a pair worn by basketball legend Michael Jordan sold for $560,000. In September, the New York-based house also presented its first collection of hip-hop memorabilia, including love letters penned by the late rapper Tupac Shakur.
Christie’s said the emergence of NFTs was a breakthrough in digital artwork, a tradition established in the 1960s but whose ease of duplication “made it near-impossible to assign provenance and value to the medium”. According to a breakdown of the bidders for the Beeple piece provided by Christie’s, 91 per cent were new to the auction house, and 64 per cent were millennials and Gen Z.
Within the sporting world, NFTs are considered a new form of digital collectible, similar to physical basketball cards, which can be acquired in packs at retail and then resold based on scarcity or emotional or historical value.
NBA Top Shot, the licensed NFT platform for the US professional basketball league, launched in beta in October and has since logged more than $347m in transactions, according to NFT tracker cryptoslam.io.
Mik Naayem, co-founder of Dapper Labs which developed the Top Shot and CryptoKitties platforms, told the Financial Times recently that “for a new generation of fans, a digital thing may actually be more ‘real’ to them than a physical object”.