Christie’s closely watched sale of digital artist Beeple’s The First 5,000 Days has resulted in an unprecedented $69.3 million sale.
Following Christie’s announcement of their plans to auction off their first NFT (non-fungible token) by Beeple (aka Mike Winkelmann) in an online sale two weeks ago, attention around the crypto art market surged to staggering heights virtually overnight.
The sale has drawn widespread attention among audiences both in and beyond the art world for its novelty. Over the course of the 10-day online sale, 33 bidders competed for Beeple’s digital work comprising 5,000 images that the artist, a graphic designer based in North Carolina, made over 13 years. The auction drew an unforeseeable level of bidding that moved the hammer price up to the millions, despite bidding beginning at $100 with no estimate assigned to the work.
The winning buyer of the piece was Singapore-based crypto investor and co-founder of NFT fund Metapurse, who goes by the pseudonym Metakovan. The anonymous buyer put in a bid of $250,000 over the underbidder, Chinese multimillionaire Justin Sun, founder of cryptocurrency platform Tron.
Last Friday, bidding was at $4 million; by Tuesday, it was up to $9.75 million; and by this morning, it had risen to $14.75 million. Within the last few minutes of the sale, bids drove up the price from $37.5 million to $50 million, then up to a final unprecedented hammer price of $60 million.
Christie’s reported that among the bidders, 55 percent were based in the U.S., 27 percent in Europe and 18 percent in Asia, with 64 percent of those participants in the Millennial and Gen Z age group (under 40 years old).
At the end of February following Christie’s launch of the sale, another work by Beeple sold for $6.6 million through Nifty Gateway, an online cryptocurrency marketplace for digital art, at the time a price record for a Beeple piece and then the most expensive digital work ever auctioned.
Beeple has amassed a cult following in the crypto art market. In December, one of his digital works made $3.5 million in the artist’s second appearance on the market. Within the first few minutes of opening, the auction at Nifty Gateway broke records for digital art sales. Many of the works were resold at inflated values—some at more than 1,000 percent of their original purchase price.
The nascent market for NFTs—encrypted works that are authenticated using blockchain technology and tagged with a unique digital signature—is on the rise, capturing the attention of celebrities and tech moguls. Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey offered the first tweet on the NFT platform Valuables, and is now sitting on an offer of $2.5 million.
Today’s Beeple sale is a coup for the old-school auction house— it has long been known as the market share leader and not, rather, for its tech-forward experimental edge. But with the current sale, the house aimed to target a new base of younger buyers while recognizing changing times. “We’re at this moment in time where there could be a drastic shift—a demographic shift, a generational shift—when it comes to what excites younger collectors,” said Noah Davis, a specialist in Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department, in an interview.
As the internet reacted to the record price, Beeple weighed in on the result via Twitter, writing, “holy fuck.”
*Correction (3/12/2021 1:15 pm): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Justin Sun was the buyer as reported by Bloomberg. Sun was the underbidder.