A detail of the Beeple NFT artwork ‘EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS’. (Source: Christies.com)
A non-fungible token (NFT) which represents the digital ownership of a virtual piece of art was sold at the London auction house, Christie’s, in March for $69.3 million. This record-breaking sum hit the headlines all over the world because it was a first for a digital artwork. The bidding had reached a mere $15 million with only 30 minutes left but a huge amount of buying activity at the end of the process meant that this sum soared to beat all previous records.
The artwork, known simply as 5,000 Days, is a digital representation of 5,000 separate images, all created by the digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known by his alter-ego Beeple. What Beeple allowed the auction house to sell, however, was not the artwork itself. This does not exist in the real world and can only be viewed by uploading the image to a device with a screen. As such, the successful bidder actually bought an NFT, a type of economic unit which is uniquely tied to the thing it represents. Although NFTs can be utilised for any commodity, they are increasingly being used to represent that ownership of digital art. Since you cannot hold digital works of art and files of them may be copied, a blockchain system is used behind the NFT to show if any digital tampering has been going on in the background.
Thanks to the blockchain used, the proud new owner of 5,000 Days, MetaKovan – another pseudonym – will be able to display his digital investment without having to worry about people effectively stealing it by making their own copies. MetaKovan, it turns out, is no novice when it comes to NFTs or the blockchain technologies that verify them. He is the founder of MetaPurse, a fund management firm that focusses exclusively on the up-and-coming world of blockchain-verifiable projects. MetaPurse has invested in several early-stage projects over the course of its relatively short its history including unique collectables and other digital assets. However, the huge sum he bid for 5,000 Days – which is the third-largest amount ever paid for a piece of art by a still-living artist in history – is of a different order.
This perhaps why MetaKovan wishes to make the realm of digital art more accessible by forging ahead with a new virtual museum to show his collection off. This, he hopes, will normalise the ideas behind authenticity and provenance of digital art that are taken for granted in so much of the traditional art world. MetaKovan obviously has a vested interest in his acquisition remaining highly valued. In a statement that was issued following the auction, he said that the collage represents 13 years of everyday work by Beeple. “While artistic techniques are replicable and skills may be surpassed,” he said, “the one thing you cannot hack is time.” MetaKovan went on to say that he though 5,000 Days – which took that many days to produce – was the crown jewel of digital art and would prove to be the most valuable artwork of its generation before adding that he now valued it at $1 billion.
Digital Art For a New Generation
According Twobadour Paanar, who is described as MetaPurse’s steward, the beauty of the digitised artwork is that it can be experienced wherever you happen to be in the entire world. Twobadour went on to say that the enormous JPEG file that Beeple created for his collage can be viewed by anyone through something as simple as an internet browser. Comparing it to the Mona Lisa, which obviously occupies the physical realm, he noted that 5,000 Days is purely digital. “As such, MetaPurse will create the sort of digital monument that this particular piece deserves,” he said. According to Twobadour, this can only come about in what he called the metaverse, a term that usually applies in science fiction for an alternative universe.
Although some of the details of how this metaverse will function and offer the public a chance to interact with the real JPEG – rather than a digital copy of it – have not yet been forthcoming, MetaPurse has gone on the record to say that a digitally visit to their virtual museum will be possible through an ordinary internet browser. This is certainly in line with the other digital galleries and museums that MetaPurse has created in the past. However, according to Twobadour, the virtual museum that will be made for 5,000 Days will only be accessible via virtual reality headsets. He said that this is because they felt the piece deserved a truly immersive viewing experience.
MetaKovan has some history of valuing the artwork of Beeple highly. In December 2020, he purchased well over $2 million to acquire twenty one-of-a-kind artworks by Beeple in a single go. The artist, who is from South Carolina in the United States, had put these works out onto the art market under several different names but the acquisition of them as a single entity brought them back together again. It is not yet known whether these virtual pieces will share the same digital space as 5,000 Days when it goes on public display for the first time.
This is partly because the digital museum that MetaPurse set up for them was, itself, sold off in a virtual sense. The museum was subject to a blockchain-verified share option which effectively allowed multiple buyers to obtain a stake in Beeple’s art. Whether or not a similar sale of shares in the record-breaking collage will be offered by MetaPurse is, as yet, anyone’s guess. If it is offered for partial sale, then one thing is for sure – the verification of who bought a share and when will be accounted for from the same sort of blockchain that underpins the entire artwork.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.