The artist known as Beeple shattered all records when his “Everydays” collection sold for $69.3 million as an NFT (non-fungible token) earlier this month.
Bidding for his digital collage started at just $100 when it was auctioned off by Christie’s, but the price soared following a flurry of bids in the final hour. The fee was paid in Ether, which marked a first for the 255-year-old auction house.
It instantly made Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, the world’s third most valuable living artist. Last month, he also sold a piece called Crossroad – a 10-second video NFT showing a giant, naked likeness of Donald J. Trump, collapsed and covered in graffiti while pedestrians walked around him – for $6.6 million in Ether on Nifty Gateway.
You might therefore expect him to be excited about the craze for NFTs, but instead he has branded it an “irrational exuberance bubble”.
Winkelmann admitted on the Sway podcast this week that it had been less than six months since he first learned of NFTs. The host asked if he feared that NFTs could represent “the second level of a pyramid scheme”, and the artist disagreed, but said they are “extremely speculative”.
“If you just look at art historically, blue chip stuff does pretty well over time,” he added. “But most of it goes to zero. That’s just how it is. And I believe NFTs will be no different. And I believe it’s absolutely in an irrational exuberance bubble that is – we’re there.”
NFTs have become a hot topic this year. Kings of Leon released their latest album as an NFT, and this week Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sold the first ever Tweet – “just setting up my twttr,” he wrote in March 2006 – as an NFT to a Malaysia-based businessman, with the proceeds going to charity.
However, some commentators fear that the trend is accelerating too rapidly. New York art advisor Todd Levin told the New York Times he had “mixed emotions” after witnessing 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.”
However, NFT mania shows no signs of abating. This week saw Ja Rule sell an NFT of a painting of the much-maligned Fyre Festival logo for $122,000. The successful bidder will receive an original work of art commissioned for the festival, which had previously been hanging in Ja Rule’s home.
He told Forbes that he only heard of NFTs a couple of weeks ago. “I think people got a little bit tired of the regular stocks-and-bonds way of investing,” he said.
The boundaries between NFTs and physical art are continuing to blur. The family of avant-garde artist Wladimir Baranoff-Rossiné (1888-1944) this week announced it would auction off an NFT that comes with a 1925 abstract painting by the artist. The sale will be made through online NFT marketplace Mintable, which recently received an investment from Mark Cuban.