NEW YORK: A digital collage by American artist Beeple sold Thursday for a record $69.3 million, Christie’s auctioneers announced, as virtual art rapidly establishes itself as a new — and highly profitable — creative genre. “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” became the most expensive ever “non-fungible token” — a collectible digital asset that uses blockchain technology to turn virtual work into a unique item.

Christie’s said Beeple — an artist from Charleston, South Carolina, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann — is now among the top three most valuable living artists in any medium alongside Jeff Koons and David Hockney. The artist said in a statement that his work, on a JPG file, had “as much craft, message, nuance and intent as anything made on a physical canvas.”

“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. With NFTs that has now changed,” he added. “I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the next chapter in art history.”

“Everydays” is based on a project beginning on May 1, 2007, when Beeple was a bored web designer and started to create a work of art each day, without interruption, to improve his drawing and graphic design. After 5,000 consecutive days, “Everydays” brought together his daily pieces in digital form, beginning with an image of his uncle Jim and ending with characters ranging from Donald Trump to Buzz Lightyear and Michael Jackson in often dystopian scenes.

Millions watch auction

Since 2007, Beeple has accumulated nearly two million Instagram followers and collaborated with major brands and famous musicians, attracted by his imaginative graphic universe. But he had never sold any work under his own name until recently, when the new technology catapulted him into orbit as one of the most fashionable artists in the world. NFTs have a documented provenance that cannot be altered, guaranteeing authenticity and making the work ownable — in contrast to most material on the internet where content is easily duplicated.

“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,” said Noah Davis, a contemporary art specialist at Christie’s. The auction house said a record 22 million people watched the dramatic final minutes of the two-week sale as the price rocketed higher among competing bidders from 11 countries.

Todd Levin, a New York art adviser, told The New York Times that he had mixed emotions about the Beeple sale. “On the one hand, it’s super exciting to witness a historical inflection point,” Levin said. “On the other hand, the amount of money involved could skew and damage a nascent emerging market.”

At the end of February another of Beeple’s works, “Crossroads”, was resold for $6.6 million on the platform Nifty Gateway, which specializes in virtual works. Beeple received a 10 percent cut. And an animation that he himself had sold at the end of October last year for a symbolic dollar was recently acquired for $150,000. – AFP