Christie’s to auction a slice of NFT history for $9m this May

Larva Labs created 10,000 CryptoPunks three years ago—and gave away most of them

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9 Cryptopunks: 2, 532 , 58, 30, 635, 602, 768, 603 and 757, made in 2017 Courtesy of Christie's

9 Cryptopunks: 2, 532 , 58, 30, 635, 602, 768, 603 and 757, made in 2017 Courtesy of Christie's

It is well known that a week in the world of NFTs equals several years for the rest of us, and now, a mere month since Beeple crash-landed at Christie’s, the auction house is offering a slice of NFT history—created just three years ago.

“Inspired by the London punk scene”, as Christie’s puts it, CryptoPunks is a collection of 10,000 pixel art images of misfit characters created by Matt Hall and John Watkinson, the founders of the New York-based software company Larva Labs.

Originally given away for free (Hall and Watkinson kept back 1,000 for themselves “just in case it became a thing”), next month Christie’s will sell nine CryptoPunks together for $7m-$9m. Ether will be accepted.

The auction house is no stranger to mixing up categories—it is perhaps no coincidence that Christie’s NFT specialist Noah Davis likened Beeple to Leonardo da Vinci in a panel discussion yesterday evening. And, just as Salvator Mundi slid into a contemporary sale that fateful evening in 2017, CryptoPunks will be offered in Christie’s evening sale in New York on 13 May.

Alongside hoodie-wearing, mohawk-sporting characters is a rare blue-skinned alien Punk (CryptoPunk 635)—one of only nine aliens out of the entire 10,000 Punks. On 11 March, an alien sold for the equivalent of $7.5m. The minimum value of a single CryptoPunk currently stands at around $40,000.

In a statement, Davis describes the CryptoPunks as the “alpha and omega of the CyptoArt movement”, though not all agree with such marketing. Jason Bailey, the founder of Artnome database, describes Hall and Watkinson as “pillars of the crypto art community”, who have had “a huge impact on accelerating the interest in the space”.

However, Bailey says that Christie’s claim that CryptoPunks are the beginning of today’s crypto art movement “awkwardly erases many critical crypto artists and their work from history”. He points to Joe Looney’s 2016 Rare Pepe Wallet and several other NFT predecessors including Nili Lerner’s 2014 NILICoins and Rhea Myers’ This Contract is Art from the same year. “There is, of course, a long history of crypto art separate from NFTs, including artists like Marguerite deCourcelle (CoinArtist) and Cryptograffiti,” Bailey adds.

The question of environmental damage is a dark cloud over NFTs, which are notoriously energy guzzling. Christie’s says in a statement that all of the bids for the NFTs offered through them “are made on Christie’s transactional platform and only the final purchase/transfer will be recorded on the blockchain, which helps to reduce further energy consumption”.

The auction house adds: “The environmental impact associated with minting the NFTs themselves is an issue that all responsible participants in the market are cognisant of, and Christie’s continues to prioritise working with vendors that are aligned with us on our long-term sustainability pledge to be net zero by 2030.”

As for the CryptoPunk sale, the NFT will remain in the Larva Labs digital wallet until after the auction, at which point it will be transferred to the new owner’s digital wallet with the transaction recorded on the blockchain.

Until then, the Punks will be “invading LCD screens” throughout New York, according to Davis. “They’re on their way and they can’t be stopped,” he says. We have been warned.

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