Mike Winkelmann — the digital artist known as Beeple — is now “among the top three most valuable living artists"

By Jason Duaine Hahn
March 11, 2021 07:16 PM
Advertisement
This undated handout image obtained March 10, 2021, courtesy of Christie's shows a digital art collage by Beeple, for sale in New York.
Credit: CHRISTIE'S AUCTION HOUSE/AFP via Getty

A computer file created by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, was sold by the auction house Christie's on Thursday for $69.3 million, becoming the highest-selling piece of digital art ever.

The piece, Everydays: The First 5000 Days, is made up of digital images 39-year-old Winkelmann created every day from May 1, 2007, to Jan. 7, 2021. Christie's describes the final piece as a collage of "abstract, fantastical, grotesque, and absurd pictures" that comment on current events and personal moments.

On Winkelmann's website and Instagram page, where he has nearly 2 million followers, he's shared countless images showing pop culture and political figures in surreal and lewd situations. One piece shows giant-sized piglets drinking milk from an even bigger pig whose head resembles Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear. That picture, posted with the caption, "supply and demand," has more than 51,000 likes on Instagram.

"I almost look at it now like I'm a political cartoonist," Winkelmann — a graphic designer and motion artist from South Carolina — told the auction house. "Except instead of doing sketches, I'm using the most advanced 3D tools to make comments on current events, almost in real-time."

A digital collage by the American artist Beeble, also known as Scott Winkelmann, a pioneer of the exploding virtual art market, sold for a record $69.3 million, Christie's announced on March 11, 2021
Mike Winkelmann
| Credit: Scott Winkelmann /AFP via Getty

Bidding on Everydays began two weeks ago, starting at just $100, the New York Times reported. As bidding was set to close on Thursday, it seemed the piece would sell for less than $30 million, but a series of last-minute bids more than doubled the amount.

After the auction, Winkelmann is now "among the top three most valuable living artists," Christie's said. The other artists are Jeff Koons and David Hockney, according to the Times.

The sale of Winkelmann's digital piece was made possible by non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. As Bloomberg explains, an NFT is best thought of as a unique "certificate of authenticity" for virtual files.

Once someone is given this certificate, it is stored on a network, known as a blockchain, which publicly verifies and tracks the item's ownership, Entrepreneur notes. That means while someone online could screenshot or save the item or artwork, only the person with the NFT of the item can say they own it.

RELATED VIDEO: Deborra-Lee Furness on Art

According to The Verge, there has been plenty of criticism involving NFTs. There have reportedly been instances of stolen art being given an NFT and auctioned, and works of "questionable artistic value" being sold at high prices.

But anyone can buy or sell NFTs through a variety of online marketplaces such as Nifty GatewaySuperRareOpenSea and Rarible.

In February, an NFT of a one-of-a-kind animation of Nyan Cat — a cat with the body of a Pop-Tart that leaves a rainbow trail behind it as it runs — sold for about $590,000, Business Insider reported.