It goes without saying that most works of art consist of a physical component, whether it be paint applied to a canvas or the threads that make up a tapestry. But Everydays: The First 5000 Days, a new mosaic of drawings by contemporary artist Beeple, exists exclusively as digital images and lines of code.
Christie’s is set to auction this unique artwork in an online sale running from February 25 to March 11. Per a statement, Everydays will be the first entirely digital piece of art sold by a major auction house.
“In short,” writes Mickey Rapkin for Esquire, “an auction house founded in London in 1766 [is] about to sell a JPEG.”
The artist better known as Beeple is Mike Winkelmann, a 39-year-old graphic designer from Charleston, South Carolina. Winkelmann has developed a fast-rising reputation in the art world for his bizarre, irreverent and sometimes-grotesque caricatures of politics, pop culture and world events, all of which are posted on his popular Instagram account. He has previously created concert visuals for Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj, among other celebrities.
Because digital art is relatively new territory for Christie’s, the auction house has declined to provide an estimated price for the artwork. Bidding will open at $100.
For context, Winkelmann’s art has already attracted a number of deep-pocketed buyers. Last December, for instance, an auction of 21 single edition works—including an illustration of Tom Hanks beating the coronavirus—garnered $3.5 million, according to Chris Williams of Crypto Briefing.
Auctioning off a digital-only work is a tricky process. As Anny Shaw explains for the Art Newspaper, Beeple’s work will be sold as an NFT, or non-fungible token. Unique and indivisible, these “crypto collectible” digital files function as a permanent record of authenticity and ownership, preventing specific works from being downloaded and replicated, as Joel Comm reported for the Grit Daily last November.
Whoever places the winning bid on Everydays will receive an encrypted file confirming their ownership of the artwork. That transaction will be recorded permanently in the blockchain. Because all blockchain transactions are visible to the public, items purchased this way cannot be easily “stolen” in the way that a person might download the MP3 of a song and reproduce it illegally.
“I use the example of a physical trading card,” Ryoma Ito, head of marketing at MakersPlace, a crypto art marketplace that collaborated with Christie’s to facilitate the auction, tells Forbes’ Jesse Damiani. “They’re accessible by the millions, but when, say, Steph Curry comes along and autographs one of those cards it will increase the value as long as there’s a way to authenticate that signature.”
Ito adds, “When a creator publishes to blockchain, they’re permanently associating their signature with that piece. It’s just a digital signature rather than a physical autograph.”
After the sale, anyone with an internet connection will be able to log onto MakersPlace and see who owns the work’s NFT, according to the statement.
Noah Davis, post-war and contemporary art specialist for Christie’s, acknowledges in the statement that the auction house has never offered “a…