Beeple’s $69 million NFT sale marks a potentially transformative moment for the art world

Today, the auction of an NFT digital art collage from a relatively unrecognized digital artist ended with a purchase price above $69 million. The work, called “Everydays — The First 5000 Days,” chronicled several years’ worth of daily sketches from the artist Mike Winkelmann — known online as Beeple. Unlike every other work the auction house Christie’s has listed in its 250+-year history, this was a purely digital work.

It’s a crazy dollar amount sure, but it’s also a tacit endorsement from the stratospherically wealthy patrons of the fine art world that blockchain-minted digital art is an acceptable medium. Beeple may have attracted a higher premium than other artists of his class thanks to crypto enthusiasts aiming to use this wave of enthusiasm to prop up a new market for crypto assets and a new medium for blockchain, but it’s still a historic moment for the art world.

Christie’s auction notes that the sale makes Beeple one of the world’s three most valuable living artists. Christie’s detailed that the bids exploded in the artwork’s final two hours at auction, moving from nearly $14 million to over $69 million as the bids poured in.

Beeple had embraced NFT artwork for months, making several million dollars off the artwork late last year before a slightly more mainstream embrace of the tech by the art world drove his works’ valuations to the moon. NFTs — or non-fungible tokens — are essentially minted assets with mathematically defined contracts that can indicate true ownership of a digital good. For digital artists who had struggled to define a sense of scarcity for digital files that could be downloaded, uploaded and shared freely, NFTs seem to be a coup of the medium that feel custom-built for the art world.

Internet-embracing meme art has been fusing with street art and eating the fine art world over the past decade, much to the chagrin of many of the existing tastemakers and stakeholders in that world who have struggled to find a shared definition of what these works mean in terms of “artistic value.” Christie’s embrace of the NFT for this singular sale is perhaps the most impactful evolution here. The FOMO for other auction houses may push them to quickly embrace a technology they otherwise would have been more reticent to.

The impact of the blockchain may have long-term effects on art auction houses beyond pure NFTs sales. It’s highly possible that these entities embrace NFTs as a trusted solution for indicating and transferring proof of ownership. The future of NFTs in the art world is certainly far from certain, but this is an explosive start.

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