In Focus

Get in on the new craze for digital art

Auction houses are hoping to lure the Reddit mob with the new medium

Last month, younger adults with time and money on their hands rocked the investing world when they descended en masse on GameStop and AMC Entertainment, taking on the hedge funds and investment banks. Christie’s is hoping to lure this rabble into shaking up the traditionally staid world of art auctions. It is offering Everydays – The First 5000 Days (2021), an artwork by Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple to his 1.8 million Instagram followers.

In 2007, Winkelmann began creating an image a day, which he has collected together into this one piece (pictured above). It was 13 years in the making and was “minted” on 16 February. Everydays is a “non-fungible token” (NFT) and this is the first time a major auction house has offered a solely digital NFT, with online bidding due to run until 11 March. But what on earth is an NFT?

Place your bids in ether

It’s the art equivalent of a bitcoin. The winning bidder in the auction will receive an encrypted file, bearing the artist’s digital signature and information such as time of creation. The transaction will then be registered on the blockchain, a public digital ledger that cannot be tampered with. It is a technology more often associated with cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin and ether (ethereum).

This latter “crypto” has become the means of exchange most closely associated with the fledgling NFT market. One anonymous bidder on 14 February, as Anny Shaw points out in The Art Newspaper, paid 10.8 WETH (a form of ether), equivalent to $18,600 (£13,362), for “a glitchy rendering of a flower”. Recognising the popularity of ether among NFT collectors, Christie’s has even said it will accept ether in payment for the principle of Everydays, with the fees to be paid in dollars.

The auction house kept the opening bid for Everydays low at $100 and, as “this is a new medium”, Christie’s has listed its estimate for the artwork as “unknown”. It is keen to find out what will be raised. Beeple, it says, is “one of the most sought-after digital artists within this market, having sold a collection of 20 works at auction for $3.5m (£2.51m) on another blockchain-based platform”.

He has worked with brands, including Apple and SpaceX, as well as music artists, such as Ariana Grande and Childish Gambino. It is the younger generation associated with these brands that the auction house is out to attract. “I think we are going to see an explosion of not only new [NFT] artwork,” says Winkelmann, “but also new collectors and I am very honoured to be a part of this movement.”

This article was originally published in MoneyWeek

MoneyWeek

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