At an auction in London on March 10, Christie's sold a digital collage entitled "Everdays: The First 5,000 Days" for almost €60 million. The sale instantly made Beeple, the creator of the work, one of the most expensive living artists in the world.
But the peculiar detail about this sale is that the art does not actually exist in material form. It is, instead, an example of a "dematerialised work" known as a non-fungible token, or NFT.
NFTs use blockchain technology to authenticate digital objects such as music, text, videos, photos or drawings, thereby making each object unique. This authentication is carried out by a network of computers and is considered inviolable and unforgeable.
To make an NFT, you can go to a dedicated platform such as Rarible or OpenSea, pay a fee in cryptocurrency and upload your digital file. Once the NFT is on the platform, the creator is then free to sell it.
The market for NFTs has been growing rapidly around the world, with even the likes of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey getting in on the action. This year, he sold his first tweet as an NFT for over €2.4 million and has committed to donating the sum to charity.
In New York, interest in NFTs has led the Superchief Gallery to inaugurate a dedicated exhibition of NFTs in physical space. For Ed Zipco, the founder of the gallery, this new format is an opportunity to give digital artists proper recognition and compensation for their work.
"NFTs allow for artist royalties, and that's the most important thing about all of this," says Zipco. "If everyone gets involved and everyone takes this seriously, this can really live. This can exist. That's a world that keeps artists sustainable. That's a world that keeps artists making art".