Someone Paid $ 69 Million For A Digital Artwork: Here’s Why It Matters

In the world of contemporary art and its related market, the default mode is surreal. There is nothing like normalcy in a world full of sharks marinated in formaldehyde, busts made of blood, machines that poop and giant sculptures of balloon dogs that sell for millions of dollars. Contemporary art is at the forefront of the commodification of creativity, with mysterious figures sometimes paying nine-figure sums for works that leave viewers laughing at outrageously and pretending their children could do it. Last week, amidst a sea of ​​widely contested Damien Hirsts, Jeff Koons and Da Vincis, a newcomer stepped onto the scene and dominated him with all his heart in a way that could change the world from art forever. The emphasis is on “could”.

Mike Winkelmann is an American graphic designer. Under the username Beeple, he has been creating a new piece of art every day for 13 years. His work is truly a creature born out of the internet age: memes, grotesque humor, hammer-hammer subtle political satire, Bitcoin references, pop culture riffs, and a healthy dose of perversion. Beeple’s works often focus on post-apocalyptic landscapes populated with such figures as the giant heads of Jeff Bezos, the lactating Buzz Lightyears, and the mountains of the Shreks. Imagine the work of Simon Stålenhag, the artist behind Tales of the Loop, as reimagined by Reddit. As Beeple’s popularity grew on social media and his day-to-day work was hampered by social media, he turned to cryptocurrencies and blockchains to turn his exclusively digital works into something of tangible value.

He started selling his work in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are essentially a digital certificate of ownership. Prices started to rise and eventually the prestigious Christie’s auction house got involved. A collage of the first 5,000 days of her daily art project has been compiled and released for sale. It is the first purely digital work to be sold at Christie’s. Online auctions started at $ 100. Last week it closed at $ 60 million. Add to that the buyer’s premium and all of the other extras, and “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” has sold for over $ 69 million. No one expected it, especially Winkelmann, who filmed himself with his family watching the countdown from home. He said in a loud voice, “I’m going to Disney World!”

This sale now means Beeple is responsible for the third most expensive piece of art by a living artist, placing it behind David Hockney and Jeff Koons. The coin’s new owner, a crypto investor named Metakovan, paid it more than the $ 65.1 million the Getty Museum paid for a painting by Manet in 2014.

I have to admit that I have been completely confused and obsessed with this story since it first broke. As a modern art lover whose favorite work is usually the kind of provocations that divide tabloid journalists and your mother, I was all over the rise of Beeple. Not so much the art itself, which I’m not a fan of (so lactating, guys), but how much its meteoric rise to the top has been both a breakthrough for modern art and a sign of the status quo.

Modern art is a popular investment for the stupid rich. It is considered a safe way to protect one’s assets during tough economic times, as well as the ultimate status symbol. Take a look at the list of the most expensive works of art ever sold and you will see a few things. First, the artists whose names guarantee large sums of money are all extremely well-known figures – think of Kooning, Cezanne, Picasso, Pollock, Klimt, Rothko, van Gogh. Second, the lion’s share of these artists are contemporary figures, meaning their work dates back to the 20th century. Third, those record sales don’t always come from what we would call the cream of the crop. ‘Interchange’ is a beautiful piece and clearly crucial in the evolution of Willem de Kooning’s style, but it’s far from its best. “When will you get married?” Is also magnificent, but you probably wouldn’t see it among Paul Gaugin’s most iconic works.

All of this reveals the problems of the market: the greatest value is placed on great artists whose works are not all on display in museums (there is a reason why we do not know the full value of “Mona Lisa” – because The Louvre is unlikely to have it appraised at auction anytime soon), and buyers are quick to go beyond their estimated price. There’s a reason most of the biggest art investors are either shady billionaires, Qatari royals, or anonymous figures who never show up.

This is what makes Beeple’s story so fascinating: he’s not a big star in the art world. He doesn’t work with a bunch of galleries or agents. There is no provenance with exclusively digital work to help inflate prices. He is not a figure of prestige. Indeed, all of his work laughs at such concepts (and then probably drools over them.) Really, he’s a pretty normal internet-shaped guy who seems to be the antithesis of Koons, Hirst, and the usual suspects in contemporary art. . This is probably the point. There is a huge chasm between art and investment.

Art itself is more difficult to analyze. I’ve seen people roll their eyes and pretend that what Beeple does is not art. Why not? Of course, it’s not for everyone, but neither does Picasso. He works fast, but so do all the greats of modern art with studios full of besieged interns doing the heavy lifting. Beeple’s work is of the moment, and that moment is defined by a fishbowl memory of the audience. Each piece is like a one-line gag on the problems of the day, or a running joke centered on the grueling absurdity of online life. There isn’t much subtlety in the image of a giant, naked Donald Trump lying dead in a park covered in slogans, but what was subtle about Donald Trump? It sounds like the satire we deserve, for better or for worse. I understand why he is popular with online Beeple fans.

But will digital art thrive after this sale? The Beeple sale is definitely a time to stop and take a look. I feel like it sold for over $ 69million so someone can say they were the first to do it, and trust me, that’s a real motivation in the art world. Remember that the buyer did not purchase the exclusive rights to this collage. It does not receive a physical copy either. There is no physical version. You can go to Beeple’s social media and see his work instantly without paying eight figures. This is the part of the equation that most people seem to have a problem with. At least when you pay $ 100 million for a Picasso, you can put it on your wall. However, in an always online life, digital art is of great importance and surely deserves some kind of monetary value? I am all in favor of artists being paid for their work, and that seems like a good way to do it. Take this now before Koons gets sixteen interns to make NFTs of drab sculptures that he can sell for $ 50 million.

What the sale reminded me the most was the infamous Damien Hirst auction of 2008. On the eve of the economic crash, Hirst made the unprecedented decision to bypass galleries and his own agent to sell. directly a slew of brand new parts to the Public. The sale raised £ 111million ($ 198million) for 218 items, far exceeding expectations and setting a record for a single artist auction. The auction itself seemed like a bigger work of art than anything Hirst was selling, which was an assembly line of repetitive creations, none of which came close to his best work. It was a breathtaking performance art moment, a violin solo as Rome burned. Since then, many have questioned the authenticity of these sales. Sunday Times accused Hirst and his co-workers of supporting sales prices to ensure the value of the Hirst brand does not weaken. It wasn’t new to Hirst or the modern art market. The year before, his infamous jewel-adorned skull, made entirely of platinum and more than 8,000 diamonds, had been marketed for $ 50 million, which would have been the highest price ever paid for a only work of an artist living at the time. Hirst claimed the work was sold for the asking price, in cash, to an anonymous consortium. Said group included Hirst himself, and he later admitted that “in the end, I covered my manufacturing and a few other costs by selling a third party to an investment group, which is anonymous.” Another example of the smoke and mirrors that support this almost mythical market.

Cryptocurrency could be the future, but that would make it a very bleak future. It takes a huge amount of energy to create and store cryptographic works. Surely this is something a lot of people will need to think about when investing in something like NFT artwork? Or is it just another way to get prestigious?

The world of contemporary art is at the center of a big bubble, and bubbles always burst. It happened in the 2008 crash, and before that, in the late 1980s, Greed is Good. We still don’t know exactly how much money is flowing in this market and where it’s all going. Shady deals are the norm, and the ultimate worth of many of these well-known performers is heightened by a flashy cycle of deception designed to distract. Remember, not too long ago, someone paid $ 450 million for a painting of Jesus Christ that may have been done by Leonardo da Vinci (or someone from his studio), but it has never been 100% authenticated as such. It takes a lot of people beyond the artist to get the money and keep it there. It would be a shame if the evolving world of digital art, in all its limitless glory, were simply reduced to just another way to make money. Surely it is worth more than that?

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Kayleigh is a writer and feature editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to his podcast, The Hollywood Read.


Source of header image: Christie’s Press Office

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