‘Crypto art’ mosaic by artist Beeple sells for $69m as NFT craze escalates

Auction of artwork at Christie’s in New York shatters record for non-fungible tokens

A digital artwork less than a month old sold at an auction for $60.25 million (€50.25 million) at Christie’s in New York, shattering every previous record set for the medium and pushing the non-fungible token (NFT) market into the price range of blue-chip masterworks. With buyer’s premium, the total comes to $69 million.

Everydays: the First 5,000 Days is a mosaic of every image that artist Mike Winkelmann, who goes by the name Beeple, has made since 2013. The artwork is attached to an NFT – a digital certificate of authenticity that runs on blockchain technology.

It has now become the most expensive NFT – a kind of digital collectible – ever sold.

Justin Sun, founder of cryptocurrency platform Tron, bid $60.25 million according to a Tron representative. This is the hammer price, suggesting it was the winning bid, but a spokesperson for Christie’s declined to name the buyer.

Unlike some of Beeple’s other artworks, Everydays doesn’t come with anything physical (a box, a plaque) attached. Nevertheless, bidding opened at $100 on February 25th.

"The first day of bidding was one of the most magical events in my auction career," said Noah Davis, a specialist at Christie's who organised the sale. "I've never seen anything like it."

In the first eight minutes of bidding, Mr Davis said, about 20 bidders pushed the work to $1 million. The sale’s final minutes were even wilder, with bidding and drama that was unprecedented in modern auction history.

An hour before the sale closed, bids were floating at about $14 million; in the last 10 minutes the price jumped to $22 million, then $27 million, then to $35 million, and then, when there were just seconds left on the clock, to $50 million, and then a staggering $60 million. The official hammer was $60.25 million, plus an extra $9 million for Christie’s.

Ethereum acceptance

When Christie’s announced the sale last month, it made waves when it revealed that it would accept cryptocurrency as payment. The caveat was that the buyer’s premium had to be in a traditional currency. But as the days went on and people continued to push the price even higher, that policy changed.

“We are accepting [a buyer’s premium of] Ethereum for this purchase,” Mr Davis said.

“I feel like that’s actually the biggest deal of this whole thing, secretly.”

Speaking a day before the sale closed, Mr Davis said he was “90 per cent sure” that the final buyer would be paying in cryptocurrency. Christie’s didn’t immediately confirm if that was the case once the sale concluded.

Given the wild volatility of cryptocurrencies, Christie’s may be taking a risk accepting its premium in Ethereum. The second-biggest digital coin lost 50 per cent of its value on February 22nd, sinking as low as $700.

This sale is the latest in a whirlwind boom in the market for NFTs. Mr Davis said this was just the beginning.

“It’s a huge shot in the arm for the business generally, when you have a sale result like that,” he said. “I think we will have really compelling and exciting NFT-based art opportunities at Christie’s in the near future.” – Bloomberg