Thanks to a flurry of eye-watering bids that almost crashed Christie's website, Beeple's digital work Everyday: The First 5000 Days (2021) has sold for an astonishing $60.25m ($69.3m with fees). It is now both the most expensive NFT (Non-Fungible Token) work of art as well as the first standalone NFT work of art to be sold by an auction house.
Vaulting from its starting bid of just $100 on 25 February to $13.25m last night, the work had reached $15m by this morning. But in the last 15 minutes, figures skyrocketed, pushing the work's price up by over $40m, with several individual bids coming in at mammoth increments of $10m and $15m, eventually hammering at $60.25m (plus fees).
The sale also marked the first time Christie's accepted cryptocurrency as payment, allowing for bids to be made in Ether via a digital wallet transfer. The buyer's premium, however, cannot be paid in cryptocurrency, which means Christie's will make over $9m in real, fiat money.
If none of this is making sense, you might first want to check out our video where we explain what NFT art actually is.
Overall 353 bids were placed by 33 bidders, 58% of whom are Millennials (those born between 1981-1996), with Gen X (1965-1980) making up another 33%. In a marked contrast for a sale with such a hefty price tag, only 3% of bidders were Baby Boomers, half of the amount of Gen Z bidders, who are under the age of 25.
The sale comes just two weeks after Beeple made the previous NFT art auction record for a 10-second video that sold for $6.6m on Nifty Gateway. Upon the artist's request, Christie's chose not to attach a customary estimate to the sale, allowing for the uncharted marketplace to run its course.
"Today’s result is a fitting tribute to the significant digital transformation that has taken place at Christie’s [...] Just as our business has evolved, so has the way in which art is being made," says Noah Davis, post-war and contemporary art specialist, Christie’s, in a statement. "Beeple’s success is a testament to the exciting possibilities ahead for this nascent marketplace. Today’s result is a clarion call to all digital artists. Your work has value. Keep making it.”
The rapid ascent of Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, from a successful graphic designer and animator, who created concert visuals for performing artists such as Ariana Grande, to one of the art world's most expensive names has shattered many pre-existing notions of hierarchical value within the art market.
For context, Everyday: The First 5000 Days is now the third most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction, behind works by Jeff Koons and David Hockney but well ahead of Gerhard Richter's Abstraktes Bild (599) (1986), which hammered for $44.5m at Sotheby's in 2015. Beeple's auction record is now also higher than most famous Old Masters, including Raphael and Titian.
"Artists have been using hardware and software to create artwork and distribute it on the internet for the last 20+ years but there was never a real way to truly own and collect it," says Beeple in a statement. "With NFTs that has now changed. I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the next chapter in art history: digital art. This is work that has just as much craft, message, nuance and intent as anything made on a physical canvas and I am beyond honoured and humbled to represent the digital art community in this historic moment."
Notably from the breakdown of today's bidders, a whopping 91% were new to Christie's, signalling quite how beneficial digital and cryptocurrency-based art could be to ensuring the longevity of the historic auction house. In a statement, Christie's says that (unsurprisingly) it will be holding future sales of NFTs, with details to be released in due course.
And as auction houses continue to look for ways to innovate and reach new audiences, there is little doubt that Christie's competitors will soon be following suit. Indeed, in January, Max Moore, Sotheby’s co-head of the Contemporary Art Day Sale in New York purchased an NFT work by the anonymous artist Pak, who ranks behind Beeple as the second most expensive NFT artist. Moore has not yet revealed the fate of the work.