Christie’s Sells an NFT for $69 Million: Tulip Mania or Barking At The Moon?

NFT = non-fungible token. An NFT is essentially a way to attach ownership to a work of digital art. Christie’s recently sold an NFT by ‘Beeple’, aka Mike Winkelmann, titled “The First 5000 Days” for $69 million dollars. You may be thinking, “That’s nuts!” I’m thinking, that’s how to raise a sinking ship.

Some may take issue with digital art and even the notion of attaching monetary value to a work of art that has no physical form and is, for all intents and purposes, infinitely reproducible. Which brings to mind Walter Benjamin’s famous  essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:

In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.

Benjamin goes on to caution:

…even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: Its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.

He referred to this presence as ‘aura.’ One has to wonder where an NFT’s aura would reside, other than the owner’s bank account. Of course Benjamin couldn’t possibly have foreseen digital art, yet one could apply his words, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art, to digital art and NFTs.

But that would be silly and giving NFT’s way more intellectual credit than they deserve. Spending $69M on an NFT by Beeple, which the buyer never bothered to look at! yet claims “This is going to be a billion-dollar piece someday.” [footnote 1], represents nothing more, or less, than a new high in speculative bubble art investing of the most cynical variety. [footnote 2]

From Christie’s:

Beeple (b. 1981)
token ID: 40913
wallet address: 0xc6b0562605D35eE710138402B878ffe6F2E23807
smart contract address: 0x2a46f2ffd99e19a89476e2f62270e0a35bbf0756
non-fungible token (jpg)
21,069 x 21,069 pixels (319,168,313 bytes)
Minted on 16 February 2021. This work is unique.

What’s more, buyers were given the option of paying for THE FIRST 5000 DAYS using the cryptocurrency Ether.

Christie’s, a privately held company, saw their sales drop 16% from 2019 – 2020 and they recently decided to nix their Impressionist and Modern and Post-War and Contemporary art auctions, replaceing them with “20th Century Art” and “21st Century Art”.  The main reason being, the supply for important Impressionist and Post-War works was drying up. Out with the old, in the with the new.

“He showed us this collage, and that was my eureka moment when I knew this was going to be extremely important,” Noah Davis, a specialist in post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, told The Verge. “It was just so monumental and so indicative of what NFTs can do.”

Up until October 2020, a Beeple had never sold for more than $100. But context is everything when it comes to art and value, so Christie’s, among others, have decided to bank on NFTs, the newest asset bubble du jour. Bon appétit!

I’ll let the artist have the last word:

“By posting the results online I’m ‘less’ likely to throw down a big pile of ass-shit,” the artist explains of the impetus behind the daily creative exercise on his website, “even though most of the time I still do because I suck ass.”

  1. Source: Ben Davis of ArtNet, I Looked Through All 5,000 Images in Beeple’s $69 Million Magnum Opus. What I Found Isn’t So Pretty
  2. Here’s a closer look at some of Mike Winkelmann’s work. Warning: racist, sexist, homophobic images ahead (thanks to Jerry Saltz and Ben Davis) all of which are in the $69M THE FIRST 5000 DAYS: