March 12, 2021

"The artist Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple, has just sold an NFT at a record-breaking $69.3 million, the third-highest price achieved by a living artist."

"The sale, at Christie’s, for the purely digital work was the strongest indication yet that NFTs, or 'nonfungible tokens,' have taken the art market by storm, making the leap from specialist websites to premier auction houses. Beeple, a newcomer to the fine-art world who first heard about NFTs five months ago, is the most high-profile artist to profit off the huge boom in sales of these much hyped but poorly understood commodities. If you’ve heard about them and want to know what the fuss is about, here’s a primer... An NFT is an asset verified using blockchain technology, in which a network of computers records transactions and gives buyers proof of authenticity and ownership... ...NFTs make digital artworks unique, and therefore sellable."

From "What Are NFTs, Anyway? One Just Sold for $69 Million/'Nonfungible tokens' and blockchain technology are taking the mainstream art world by storm, fetching huge prices. We explain, or try to" (NYT).

This post is the stark opposite of the previous post.

53 comments:

tim maguire said...

The most interesting thing to me is that Beeple is middle-aged white guy. I was expecting a 19-year-old graphic arts student of difficult-to-determine ethnicity and sexuality.

David Begley said...

Peak Greater Fool.

If I could short the NFT market, I would.

Kevin said...

This post is the stark opposite of the previous post.

The negative image.

Shouting Thomas said...

Scott Adams has been talking about this.

He can’t understand why people are buying these things, but he’s getting his own NFTs of Dilbert cartoons ready to sell because somebody will buy them.

rhhardin said...

You don't need the art at all, if I understand it. There's an ownership blockchain and that's what you bought.

Vapor-art.

If there is art, it can be copied and stored on HDs around the world just as before by anybody.

-XC said...

Two thing....

Thing the first - the quantum computing guys are quietly laughing at the bitchain guys because when they will be able to break the encryption in hours.

B) You can still make a digital copy of Beeple's work and display it. Full resolution. You just won't own it. Oh, no. I have copies of lots of artwork, in these things called books. Not full resolution and no brushstrokes. But if I could get a perfect forgery (copy) of Cassat paintings, they'd be in my bathroom.

I'm with @Begley- peak greater fool.

-XC

tim maguire said...

XC said...You can still make a digital copy of Beeple's work and display it. Full resolution. You just won't own it.

The entire art world is built around the original having a value that is unrelated to the value of copies. Even perfect copies. In that respect, there's nothing new here.

Fernandinande said...

For that kind of money I'd expect a png file.

It's 21069 pixels square, so that comes out to a little over 15 cents per pixel.

mezzrow said...

The kind of insight that results in a Scott Adams is interesting to watch.

My limited mind would assume that I would need to really understand what NFTs are about before I could understand that I could monetize them, or learn to draw before I started a comic strip. He cuts right through the question mark phase.

THAT's marketing. His straight up shamelessness is also a strength.

I need craftsmanship in my artists. This is not my time.

Oh Yea said...

Sweeping sports memorabilia also. Essentially digital baseball cards. Prices being driven by artificial shortages. But what else is everyone going to go with all the funny money being handed out by the government?

But you'll know to get out when they start with digital Beanie Babies or tulip bulbs.

rhhardin said...

It's not like art with also perfect copies floating around. In that case you own the actual original - the artist touched it etc. Here you own a copy to start with, just one that's designated as uniquely owned. If you acquire a copy as well, you can't tell them apart, and could sell either of them as the legitimate owned one (but then not the other as well).

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

what a the mega wealthy doing to help the poor?

Jamie said...

I'm interested in the psychology behind this "ownership." Or any ownership of art, for that matter. Take some Baroque composer who was working for a patron - his patron "owned" something that could only be experienced by making it public. Even if the patron was a draconian jerk who would only allow a work to be played for him and him alone, the musicians who played it would also hear it. And some of them could probably reproduce it from memory, and play it on the street, far from the jerk's house so that he wouldn't know and have them killed, or whatever the penalty would have been in those days.

Of course, the thing about performance art is that there's literally no way to use it as an investment. I have friends who collect art, some of it very valuable. Do they stop to admire or enjoy their Monet as they walk past? I've never seen them do so. I do think they enjoy art - they go to art things, galleries and showings, a lot more often than I do - but owning it doesn't seem to make their enjoyment any richer.

Might make them richer, I suppose. As long as tastes don't change.

David Begley said...

Beeple will be on CNBC at 10:30 central.

CNBC just had a segment about a digital trading card platform called onlyalt.com. I looked at it. Trading cards of NFL and NBA players I never heard of were offered for $1,100. Super Max Greater Fool.

Leland said...

From what I read, elsewhere, about NFTs; they seem to be like a digital contract of ownership of something that is itself digital. It would make great sense for Scott Adams to NFT his Dilbert Cartoons. The real question is what does it mean when he sells the NFT? It is a usage right or is he selling all the rights to it?

If I purchase art at $69 million; I expect to own everything about it. If anyone can make a digital copy and use it, despite my name being attached to it, then what's the point? Even if they can't authenticate the copy as being genuinely mine; what is the contract enforcement to my copying the digital file? Who enforces the copyright of NFTs?

Something to ponder: here is a website that sales NFT of NBA moments. I get that those moments can be unique, but who owns and polices the digital copyright of say Michael Jordan's Foul Line Dunk? Maybe you can't monetize such a moment on YouTube without a license, but you can certainly consume it.

rhhardin said...

What a great way to honor Confederate generals.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

are

rehajm said...

There's lots of techies with lots of cash but otherwise not much sophistication outside of tech. A market ripe with marks.

Will Cate said...

It's simply astounding what rich people will spend money on.

David Begley said...

Wake up Althouse! Meade talk some sense to your wife!

The NFT portfolio of Ann’s Madison sunrises is worth millions.

You are the American Monet. That’s how you market it.

You’re welcome.

rehajm said...

I mean I can appreciate the sort of valuelss-has-value type performance art of someone like JSG Boggs or a self-destructing Banksy. Here the hook is the robustness of blockchain and at the risk of sounding like Crack, there's a raving cult around blockchain, and that cult has lotsa money...

Howard said...

The art scene has been fleecing rich people for years. I guess this takes the guess work out of provenance.

Netflix has a good documentary on a big NYC art fraud. My late art teacher claimed fakes were more prevalent than real works of art as the authenticators were inept and corrupt.

https://variety.com/2021/film/reviews/made-you-look-review-barry-avrich-1234913471/amp/

Oh Yea said...

Something I haven't seen mentioned before is that in the sports markets and I suspect in the others, the original creator of the NFT gets a percentage of each subsequent sale which is guaranteed by the blockchain technology.

DavidUW said...

Modern art is 100% money laundering.

Price doesn't matter except to quantify how much you're moving.

Chris said...

Look's like Beeple watched an episode of The Expanse before he created his "original" art titled “Everydays — The First 5000 Days,”.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

Art cannot fleece anyone, Howard. Unless the buyers have guns to their heads.

Lucid-Ideas said...

@David Begley

"Greater Fool"

In any financial game - as in war - a loser is required. Someone, maybe lots of someones, must be left holding the bag.

From Dot-com to Bit-bubble. Same story, different decade.

Owen said...

David Begley/Lucid Ideas: “...greater fool...”. Word.

I think “Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds” should be required reading for every person claiming adult citizen status. With a test. Every year.

Kate said...

3rd Son is a digital artist and animator. He makes an independent living off of his youtube channel. An exclusive screen grab would absolutely sell. The fact that everyone can still watch the original wouldn't matter (and the promotion would benefit him). It's owning the piece, the experience, the moment in his career, that people would pay for.

It's great the art world is coming up with a way to financially recognize digital.

MadisonMan said...

If people want to spend their money on bits, more power to them, and to the creators who amped up demand somehow. I'll pass.

MikeR said...

I think this is definitive proof that people have no sense. The "original" of a digital asset. Sheesh.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Shouting Thomas said...

Scott Adams has been talking about this.

He can’t understand why people are buying these things...


How about: ...much hyped but poorly understood commodities.

...but he’s getting his own NFTs of Dilbert cartoons ready to sell because somebody will buy them.

Smart man, that Scott Adams!

Ann Althouse said...

The buyer doesn't own the copyright. As I understand it — and "it" bores me — the buyer just gets another copy like anybody else, but he gets a copy that has been deemed the special copy, the one that really matters. Is that just a con game? Or is it like the Little Prince and his rose... but without the love, with money instead of love.

What if you paid a lot of money for something that everyone else got cheap? Would you feel extra special or like a chump? You might as well decide that you own the moon. Just do that in your own mind. Or... if you have to give someone else money to really believe that and enjoy yourself, give a billion dollars to me.

Tom T. said...

tim maguire said...
Beeple is middle-aged white guy.


You don't get to decide that!

Kylos said...

Something about the price makes me suspicious of the whole transaction.

Levi Starks said...

Trying to imagine how the owner explains this when bragging about it at a cocktail party.

Static Ping said...

Rich people like to signal their wealth. Buying things no one else can afford has been the popular way to do this since Egyptians were building pyramids. The rub has always been that "rich" and "intelligent" (or "wise" or "discerning" or "knowledgeable") are weakly correlated, so there are always people out there preying on the vanity of the rich. Making money off of people's egos is always a booming market. Heck, even the "good" artists have that as their business plan. They are simply the fools that actually produce something of value.

I have no opinion on NFTs nor do I care to form an opinion on the subject. I will commend Beeple on finding a way to part a rich person from his or her money voluntarily. One does not need to know art to respect such skill.

Brian said...

Does Beeple sell at the price if he's known only as Mike Winkleman?

This is really a derivative of bitcoin. The fact that this is taking off probably means that bitcoin (and other blockchain currencies) are reaching a level of maturity.

Anybody can own a blockchain in the form of bitcoin, but only one person can own a specific piece of blockchain. That specific piece is special because of the art attached to it.

Or it's all tulips...

I wonder when the first pornographic NFT gets sold.

Lucid-Ideas said...

@Static Ping

"Rich people like to signal their wealth."

Art is almost by definition - as in literally in economic textbooks - a "Veblen Good". AKA a product produced and consumed to symbolize something, usually wealth.

Art is a Veblen Goods. Interestingly it wasn't necessarily always that way. There was a time when art was actually entertainment as well as Veblen Goods. Walking through the galleries was an important and enjoyable (although wealthy) passtime.

Static Ping said...

Ann: Is that just a con game?

Not really. The buyer thinks he or she got something of value for some reason. This isn't someone selling something they don't own (the proverbial Brooklyn Bridge) or fooling someone into buying something useless (the proverbial swamp land in Florida) or simply stealing. There's no deception here. Someone thought this was worth 69 million dollars of their own free will.

If the transaction is fully transparent and both buyer and seller are legally competent, it is generally not the seller's responsibility to protect the buyer from doing something stupid.

-XC said...

@Tim, first big fan of your writing.

And, second, the "perfect copy" of the painting is just that a copy. It's newer, used different paints, on different canvas, the brush strokes aren't exactly the same, etc, etc.

I was speaking sloppily, but the "digital copy" is exactly the same thing. It's not like bits on my computer from Jan 1, 2021 will be the same as the bits on Jan 2, 2021. But we consider the picture displayed on the screen both days is exactly the same. And the bits in the blockchain (or wherever they are stored) have been transmitted across the innertubes, so what Beeple "drew" on his screen isn't what was stored or viewed.

-XC

Freeman Hunt said...

I have wondered how digital artists sell their art. Question answered!

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Levi Starks said...

Trying to imagine how the owner explains this when bragging about it at a cocktail party.

You drop the word "blockchain" into the conversation and everyone orgasms. Easy!

You do have to be in the right crowd though. It works best with artsy-fartsy types and middle management.

Howard said...

Your right, April. It's human nature to invite the seductrix into your heart and wallet.

Howard said...

The conversation reminds me of my favorite Captain Beefheart song: "Block Chain Puller".

Shouting Thomas said...

Captain Beefheart was the English major hero of 60s rock.

Funny, but terrible shit.

Along with Frank Zappa, he’s the most famous rocker nobody wants to listen to.

DavidUW said...

AA asks:

"the one that really matters. Is that just a con game?"

No. It's a money laundering game.

Seriously people.

I'm a Russian oligarch/criminal. Or a Chinese capitalist/slave driver.
How do I get my money out of the country?
I buy an "art" piece in London or NYC. Most likely through a shell company.

Magically, the asset/money is now in those cities, to be resold when needed/wanted.

There is no "value" to modern art except as a means to move money from one jurisdiction to another in order to evade taxes, capital controls and/or the government prying into my business.


Joe Smith said...

A local radio guy, fairly savvy in alls things digital, likens this to Bitcoin millionaires flexing their muscles.

A lot of people got very rich in the Bitcoin run-up.

It's also a way to 'validate' the currency...to prove that it is viable going forward.

It makes more sense the way he explained it.

loudogblog said...

It sounds like people are buying these as investments; not works of art.

iowan2 said...

First world problems heh?

For a never discernable reason, my brother was on a short kick about "investing in art".

He spent a year researching paintings and their artists. Finally an honest gallery owner told him stop the idiocy of trying to analyze art using excel. He said buy what moved him emotionally. Invest in investments. Art is for pleasure.

Whiskeybum said...

Ann Althouse said...

You might as well decide that you own the moon.


Hey - I DO own the moon! I guy sold it to me on eBay. I can get you an NFT on it for only $300 million. You think that's too pricey? It is the moon, ya know... one of a kind!

Temujin said...

I'll just say that I just don't fucking get it. Digital currency I get. NFTs I do not. And the insta-hype around it sounds like mortgage brokers hawking at people during a time of overvalued homes selling like hotcakes. Well...like today.

Anga2010 said...

Agree with DavidUW - money laundering.