Why NFTs are state of the art

By Raffaele Redi

Christie’s auctions off CryptoPunks non-fungible tokens

A Corner of The Garden at Montgeron by Claude Monet                                 
A Corner of The Garden at Montgeron by Claude Monet recently sold as an NFT. Photo: State Hermitage Museum
                                

London auctioneer Christie’s is about to stage the first sale of digitally tokenised (NFT) art in Asia by a mainstream auction house.

The range of NFT art in the No Time Like Present sale in Hong Kong includes a group of rare CryptoPunks created by Larva Labs with a starting price of HKD1m ($128,500).

The sale also includes Larva Labs’ latest creation Meebits, starting at HKD45,000 ($5,782), and Yuga Labs’ Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC).

The online auction, scheduled for 17-28 September, comes from the collection of Shawn Yue, a well-known actor and collector in Asia. The collection is a retrospective of his career over the past 20 years, and "reflects his passionate pursuits in life and art”, according to Christie's.

The most expensive Punk to date, number 310, one of nine alien Punks, sold on the Larva Labs website in March this year for $7.6m. It was originally sold in 2017 for just $76. Even the cheapest Punk currently for sale is priced at ETH79.99 ($274,845).

Pioneering auction

It's not the first time that 'serious' art institutions have dipped their toes in the waters of crypto art.

The Russian State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg recently reaped $440,500 from its pioneering auction, hosted on Binance, of tokenised digital copies of five historic masterpieces from its collection.

The museum brought out a limited series of NFTs with digital copies of world-ranking masterpieces from its collection. The series featured digital reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci's Litta Madonna, Giorgione's Judith, Vincent van Gogh's Lilac Bush, Wassily Kandinsky's Composition VI and Claude Monet's Corner of the Garden at Montgeron. They are signed by Mikhail Piotrovsky, general director of the State Hermitage.

All the tokenised digital works have a duplicate kept at the museum, which will stage a fully virtual exhibition of digital NFT art in November.

It seems that non-fungible tokens have found their place in the art world. “We have no doubt NFTs are art,” said Dimitri Ozerkov, the show's creator and director of the Hermitage’s contemporary art department, speaking to The Art Newspaper.

Typical NFT collector

NFT art collectors and admirers are increasing in number, and this wind seems to blow from the East.

Data provided by Christie's to Currency.com shows that Asia-Pacific clients contributed 77% by value in NFT sales in the first half of 2021, with purchases totalling $93.2m in the same period – more than double that of Christie’s competitors.

The stereotype of an NFT admirer is, perhaps, predictable. Roughly seven out of ten (73%) of NFT sales registrants are new to Christie’s at an average age of 38, 13 years younger than the average age of clients in other sales, the auction house told Currency.com.

NTFs market

Sale volumes are increasing, too. At the end of August NFT daily sales reached a peak of roughly $268m, though the average for September was well down at just under $24m.

Over the past week, the number of NFT secondary daily sales has fallen to roughly $16m per day – while primary sales fluctuated at around $3m per day.

However, there was a slight increase in unique buyers, albeit still far from August's dizzying levels.

Christie’s pioneered the introduction of NFTs into the global auction market. It was the first international auction house to sell an NFT of a purely digital work of ar, hosting the online sale of Everydays by Beeple that achieved $69m and set the record – so far – for the most expensive work sold online.

As Christies' readies itself for the Hong Kong sale, it seems NFTs are rapidly becoming state of the art.

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