After breaking Crypto Art records in December, Beeple will become the first artist to auction a purely digital, NFT-backed artwork at a major auction house, which will be open for bidding Feb. 25 – March 11 at Christie’s.
For many, the weekend of Dec. 11-13 was just another December weekend, but for digital artist Mike Winkelmann—better known as “Beeple” or @beeple_crap—it was one that would forever change his life.
“It was very surreal, luckily my family was there. I think I honestly was in shock,” Winkelmann said in an interview with the author. “It took quite a while to process; I’m not even sure I have now. Afterwards it was like, ‘Oh cool, that went well,’ and it took weeks for it to sink in that, no…it went insanely well.”
That weekend, Beeple sold 20 of his digital artworks for $3.5M through a series of sales on Nifty Gateway, a marketplace for limited-edition art and collectibles backed by what are called nonfungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs will be described in further detail below, but from a high level it’s just important to know that they function as digital signatures that authenticate the origin of a given thing (yes, on the blockchain). These “things” tend to be digital files, but they can undergird physical objects as well. In fact, for Beeple’s first sale—“open editions” of three pieces cheekily titled Bull Run, Infected, and Into The Ether—the final product was essentially physical. Each would arrive for buyers as “interface-free, always-on physical artifact[s] of the NFT featuring a signed, numbered titanium backplate with hidden authentication markers” along with an “authentic Beeple hair sample.”
These pieces were priced at $969. Because all three were open editions, however many were snagged during the allotted five-minute window would subsequently have to be produced by the artist.
“I was thinking we’d see 100 to maybe 200 that would sell, Winkelmann said. “But then that it was 600.”
Those 600 artworks sold over the course of five minutes amounted to $582k in sales for the artist—on only the first of a three-night sequence—so one might assume Beeple would have been jubilant.
“Honestly that night I did not feel good,” Winkelmann said. “I was just thinking like, ‘How the f*** are we going to make 600 boxes in six to eight weeks?’”
Who is Beeple?
The above gets at something core about the artist, who is something of a legend in digital art circles but will also be a new name for the many who discover his work on the occasion of this announcement from Christie’s—which is putting his work up as a standalone auction concurrent with its “First Open | Online,” a lot that includes art by Andy Warhol.
Speaking to friends, colleagues, and those close to his work, some themes emerge: he’s fearless, he’s no stranger to vulgarity or twisted humor, and he’s deeply invested in his community. Instead of rejoicing at the fresh $582k in his bank account, Winkelmann’s first concern was how he’d deliver what he promised to a community that trusted him.
“Mike’s a very generous artist, first and foremost; if you speak with anybody that’ll be the first thing that they say about him,” said Lady PheOnix, a curator of digital art and cofounder of Universe Contemporary, a Crypto Art consultancy. “He’s open about his practice, his process, and what it’s taken for him to ‘make it.’”
And making it has been a long road for Beeple. In many ways, his trajectory—and the artist it forged—reflects the rebellious, no-holds, and unfussy ethos of digital art. He grew up in…