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  • Writer's pictureBillions Luxury Portal

A TOKEN SALE

Christie’s once again leads the way with its first blockchain-backed digital-only artwork auction ..

On 1 May 2007, Mike Winkelmann, aka the digital artist Beeple, posted a new work of art online. He did the same thing the next day and the next, and the next one after that, creating and posting a brand-new digital picture or ‘everyday’ as he called it, every single day for 13-and-a-half years. Now those individual pieces have been brought together in EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS, a unique work in the history of digital art.


Minted exclusively for Christie’s, the monumental digital collage was recently sold as a single lot for £69.3 million. Marking two industry firsts, Christie’s was the first major auction house to offer a purely digital work with a unique NFT (Non-fungible token) — effectively a guarantee of its authenticity — and to accept cryptocurrency, in this case Ethereum, in addition to standard forms of payment for the singular lot.


Christie’s has never offered a new media artwork of this scale or importance before,’ says Noah Davis, specialist in Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s in New York. ‘Acquiring Beeple’s work is a unique opportunity to own an entry in the blockchain itself created by one of the world’s leading digital artists.’




FROM SIMPLE DRAWINGS TO LIFE IN 3D

Consumers of internet culture will already be familiar with the South Carolina-based graphic designer and motion artist known as Beeple. His visionary and often irreverent digital pictures have propelled him to the top of the digital art world, winning him 1.8 million followers on Instagram and high-profile collaborations with global brands ranging from Louis Vuitton to Nike, as well as performing artists from Katy Perry to Childish Gambino.



In EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS, the artist has stitched together recurring themes and colour schemes into an aesthetic whole. The individual pieces are organised in loose chronological order: zooming in reveals pictures by turn abstract, fantastical, grotesque or absurd, deeply personal or representative of current events. Recurring themes include society’s obsession with and fear of technology; the desire for and resentment of wealth; and America’s recent political turbulence.


SO WHAT ARE NFTS?

NFT artworks are becoming a serious business. Last year, Beeple made US$3.5 million on an NFT auction. But the entry of a global blue-chip auction house like Christie’s into this domain may mark a new stage for blockchain technology, as a widespread tool for both maintenance and transformation of digital art markets.


NFTs support claims to an artwork’s value. While the JPEG file of Everydays may be copied, the collector’s blockchain-based record of ownership will allow them to display the work (and to resell it) on a number of online platforms.



Christie’s has teamed up with one such platform, Makersplace, for the deal. Makersplace uses an open standard smart contract for its NFTs, which means the work can be sold in many other places in the the increasingly complex NFT ecosystem. NFTs are useful in the digital art market because they enable claims to authenticity and scarcity, despite the ease with which digital works can ordinarily be copied. Artists and galleries have tried to create scarcity via limited-edition works and to assure authenticity with certificates, but NFTs seek to automate this process.




NFTs record ownership on a blockchain, which is a decentralised alternative to a central database. Built through cryptography and peer-to-peer networks, blockchains are resistant to tampering and hacking, which makes them useful for storing important records. Vince Tabora from US tech website Hacker Noon has written an accessible explainer of how blockchain is different from older ways of storing and organising data.


WHY BLOCKCHAIN?

Ever since blockchains were described in the white paper published by pseudonymous Bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, the idea of a “trustless” way to keep secure public records has evolved into a so-called “confidence machine”, fuelling a considerable amount of hype.


And Christie’s is no stranger to new technology. The company has hosted regular Art+Tech Summits since 2018 (the inaugural topic being blockchain). In 2018, Christie’s proudly announced it was “the first auction house to offer a work of art created by an algorithm”, with the sale of the AI-generated painting Portrait of Edmond Belamy for more than 40 times its estimate.


So by selling Everydays as “the first purely digital work” to be offered by a major auction house, Christie’s is reinforcing its self-described “position at the forefront of innovation in the art world”.


VIRTUAL TRADING CARDS AND CRYPTOKITTIES

At the same time, Christie’s auction was only the tip of the NFT-collecting iceberg. Industry publication Coindesk estimates the total value of the NFT market to be US$250 million. Platforms such as Opensea, Nifty Gateway and SuperRare host a rapidly expanding range of digital collectibles to buy and sell by a growing community of collectors.


Beyond art, digital collectibles include virtual trading cards, artefacts and attire for virtual gaming worlds. They also underpin games such as CryptoKitties, in which NFTs serve to secure the “unique genome” of each kitty in the game. These examples reflect the uptake of NFTs across different digital subcultures, providing collectors with claims to uniqueness that were previously considered impossible in the online realm.


Images provided courtesy of Christie's

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