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Digital artwork sells for record $69 million at Christie's first NFT auction

The first purely digital work sold by an established auction house brings blockchain into the world of fine art.
Image: Mike Winkelmann, Beeple
Mike Winkelmann, in Charleston, South Carolina, is a rising digital artist who goes by the name Beeple.Scott Winkelmann / AFP - Getty Images file

Christie's auction house sold its first purely digital artwork Thursday for a record $69 million, the highest price paid for an NFT, or nonfungible token.

The work, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” is by Mike Winkelmann, who goes by the name Beeple. The work is a collage of 5,000 drawings, one created and posted every day for the past 13 and a half years.

Originally created with pen and paper and now mostly illustration software, the sketches run the gamut from an angular line drawing of his first baby to Hillary Clinton and well-known cartoon characters.

The winning bidder owns the work in the form of a unique string of code, called a nonfungible token. The piece has no physical presence and will be "delivered directly from Beeple to the buyer, accompanied by a unique NFT encrypted with the artist’s unforgeable signature and uniquely identified on the blockchain," Christie's said.

NFTs have surged in popularity in recent months. The singer and visual artist Grimes sold $6 million worth of digital art last month, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is auctioning off his first tweet — a March 21, 2006, post that reads “just setting up my twttr” — as a nonfungible token. Bidding is currently at $2.5 million.

Noah Davis, a specialist in post-war and contemporary art for Christie's, brought Beeple to the auction house’s attention after witnessing the graphic artist's growing popularity.

Image: Beeple
Digital art collage by Beeple, on March 10, 2021.Christie's Auction House / AFP - Getty Images

"The first 10 minutes of this sale we had more than 100 bids placed. We went from an opening bid of $100 to more than $1 million. We had bidders from seven different countries," Davis told Yahoo Finance.

Beeple's digital pictures have already won him 1.8 million followers on Instagram and collaborations with Louis Vuitton, Katy Perry and Nike.

NFTs can also do what Picasso's genius could not: generate a future stream of profits for the artist each time the work changes hands.

“Every time that token is traded, I will get 10 percent,” digital artist Jimmy Simmons told NBC News. “It’s a new frontier, a new contract."

The auction is also the first time Christie's has accepted cryptocurrency as a form of payment, noting that bidders "may elect to make payment of the purchase price for this lot in the cryptocurrency Ether. Payment in Ether must be made via a digital wallet transfer of Ether to Christie’s."