Digital art, for decades, does not hold its value remotely as well as traditional fine art. The ease of duplication makes provenance documentation nearly impossible. But with the advancement of blockchain technology, art authenticity and ownership is no longer a hindrance as Christie's takes the lead in dabbling in the crypto art market.
Everydays: The First 5000 Days by Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, is a collage of images taken everyday since 2007, for 5000 days straight. Not only does the work provide a glimpse into the artist’s creative journey from his early days, it also marks Christie’s first foray into accepting cryptocurrency in an auction.
Everydays: The First 5000 Days comprises 50 images by the artist, created during May 1, 2007 to January 7, 2021
The standalone online sale runs from February 25 to March 11 and bidding starts at US$100. The auction house lists the estimate for the work as “unknown.”
“We’re replacing our typical ‘estimate on request’ with ‘estimate unknown.’ We’re breaking such new ground with this piece, your guess is as good as ours,” said Noah Davis, specialist in Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s New York.
Christie’s started tapping into the realm of blockchain back in 2018, as it hosted a summit to explore both opportunities and challenges presented by the nascent technology. In November 2018, the auction house also debuted an auction, in which all sales were recorded and digitally encrypted by Artory, a blockchain-backed digital registry.
"An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection" was Christie’s first-ever blockchain-recorded auction
The purchases were certified by Artory, which then recorded such information as transaction date, price, title, and description in a digital certificate for every lot sold. Each buyer was given a registration card, with access to the encrypted information on the registry.
The 42-lot sale fetched a total of US$317.8m, headlined by seminal American artist Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey, which realized US$91.9m after fees. The oil on canvas work marked a new record for the artist, and stands as the most expensive price ever paid for any pre-war American art.
Edward Hopper (1882-1967), Chop Suey, sold for US$91.9m at Christie’s New York, November 2018
So what exactly is blockchain? Blockchain is a ledger of decentralized data that is stored permanently on numerous computers. Transaction records are stored in a sequence of blocks, which form a time-stamped and immutable chain, making it impossible to alter the data and hence considered a more secure and reliable technology.
It is also the technology behind the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and the rest of the non-fungible token (NFT) network. From a secondary art market perspective, it verifies the authenticity and provenance, as well as the rightful ownership of an artwork.
NFT ensures verifiable authenticity and digital scarcity
The NFT technology enhances the transparency of the transactions through a public but secured database. The auction house deems it an innovative strategy to appeal to the millennials, yet only time will tell whether or not cryptocurrency will be widely accepted by collectors.
Everydays: The First 5000 Days combines the 5000 images created and published online daily by Beeple, without missing a single day. Spanning from abstract, fantastical, grotesque to political issues, his oeuvre has attracted 1.8 million followers on Instagram. He has also collaborated with international labels such as Louis Vuitton, Apple, SpaceX, and Nike.
Mike Winkelmann, American digital artist and graphic designer, best known by the name Beeple
Beeple (b.1981) | Everydays: The First 5000 Days
Dimensions: 21,069 x 21,069 pixels (319,168,313 bytes)
Minted on February 16, 2021
Token ID: 40913
Wallet address: 0xc6b0562605D35eE710138402B878ffe6F2E23807
Smart contract address: 0x2a46f2ffd99e19a89476e2f62270e0a35bbf0756
Created on October 7, 2020. The fly that unexpectedly landed on former US Vice President Mike Pence’s head during the 2020 vice-presidential debate, inspired Beeple to one of the images in Everydays
The successful bidder will be given the artwork file encrypted with a digital signature from the artist, which is embedded in a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain. The unique NFT is issued by MakersPlace, an online marketplace for digital creators. While the new owner of Beeple’s work will have the option to make payment of the hammer price in the cryptocurrency Ether, but “for the avoidance of doubt,” Christie’s requires the buyer’s premium to be settled in US dollars.
The Complete MF Collection by Beeple, sold for US$777,777 in December 2020
A collection of digital artworks, entitled The Complete MF Collection by Beeple, was sold on NFT marketplace Nifty Gateway a few months ago. The collection came with an always-on display and a physical token containing the digital artworks, which was eventually sold for US$777,777.
The fast growing NFT space is met with skyrocketing demands. According to Cryptoart.io, February 2021’s monthly volume has reached US$41.4m to date, making up for more than a third of the accumulated sale of US$126.2m.
The monthly crypto art volumes across six popular marketplaces
Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Beeple | The First 5000 Days (online)
Dates: February 25 - March 11, 2021