The fine art world is undergoing a pivotal shift. The rapid rise of crypto art and non-fungible tokens (NFTs)—which Dezeen defines as “a blockchain-based certificate of authenticity that can be assigned to virtual artworks to verify their origin and ownership”—is ushering in the next iteration of luxury collectibles.

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Beeple's artwork. Images courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2021
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“Artists have been using hardware and software to create artwork and distribute it on the internet for the last 20-plus years, but there was never a real way to truly own and collect it,” said artist Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple. “With NFTs that has now changed. I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the next chapter in art history: digital art.”

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Grimes' debut NFT collection, titled WarNymph. Image courtesy of Grimes and Twitter

The past few months have seen a flutter of activity in crypto art. Nyan Cat, the popular meme, was sold as a one-of-a-kind piece of crypto art in February. Musician Grimes auctioned 10 pieces of original crypto art on NFT marketplace Nifty Gateway at the end of February—they sold for nearly $6 million in just 20 minutes. And Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet is currently up for auction as an NFT and is on track to sell for $2.5 million.

Renowned auction houses—the gatekeepers of the fine art market—are now starting to sell NFT-minted digital masterpieces.

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Beeple's artwork. Top: Everydays: The First 5000 Days. Images courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2021
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Christie’s made history earlier this month with a crypto art sale that crowned it as the first major auction house to sell a fully digital artwork. The piece, titled Everydays: The First 5000 Days, created by Beeple, sold for over $69 million at auction on March 11, 2021—the most valuable crypto art sale to date. Christie’s called it “a watershed moment in the development of digital art.” In addition to being the first purely digital piece sold by the auction house, the final moments of the auction attracted a record 22 million viewers and the sale has made Beeple one of the three most valuable living artists.

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Beeple's artwork. Images courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2021
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Sotheby’s also has plans to begin selling crypto art. On March 16, the auction house announced a collaboration with digital artist Pak for its first sale of NFT certified art. “We are entering a whole new world with digital art,” Sotheby’s said. “It’s still very early with crypto art in general and it’s all new to us,” Sotheby’s chief executive Charles F Stewart told CNBC, “but there’s a lot here that we think has staying power.”

As much of daily life and cultural engagement moves online, it follows that the paraphernalia of daily life—personal possessions and cultural items—will also be rendered digitally. These sales mark the next evolution of digital culture and indicate a fundamental shift in the high-end collectibles market, raising the value of digital possessions and introducing a new formula for luxury markets.

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