Beeple’s Digital Artwork Sells for $69 Million

Zephyr Lipman-Wulf, Writer

The sale of graphic designer Mark Winkelmann’s digital artwork has shocked and confused many. Mark Winkelmann, or “Beeple,” sold one of his longest-worked-on digital art pieces – Everydays: The First 5000 Days – for a whopping $69.3 million. It was auctioned off after a two-week-long bidding war at Christie’s, an auction company in Britain. The piece sold on March 11th to a Singapore-based founder and financier of an online cryptocurrency wallet. The buyer, who goes by Metakovan, states that it is “the most valuable piece of art for this generation” and that “it will one day be worth $1 billion.” Many say that it is hard to call it artwork, but more of a digital product, and that the historic nature of the sale does not in any way represent a new beginning or chapter of art. 

Mike Winkelmann is a professional American digital artist. He is also a graphic designer and animator who is most known for creating multimedias describing society, social commentary, and political occurrences. As a reference, Mike uses pop culture figures and other popular current influences to sometimes depict dystopian futures. Many of his digital pieces and physical paintings are accompanied with NFT (non-fungible token), a program for unique artworks that are not physical objects. It is based upon ownership and not copyright; the artwork’s ownership always stays with the artist. Copyright stands for the owner having the exclusive legal right to the product created. In this situation, the product is a digital work so copyright does not apply to it. 

Winkelmann’s First 5000 Days is a digital file that could realistically be  reproduced. It has been “minted” – marked in a way – to prove and secure authenticity of ownership in record form. Last week, during the online sale at Christie’s, this was speculated by many. The NFT organization that Winkelmann is partnered with is a result of the quickly growing digital currency and technology industry. The sale created a new beginning of frictionless capitalism, referring to high dollar amount transactions made on the internet instead of in person. This creates a higher efficiency rate for traditional markets. The investments companies make towards these works are at the cost of security, asset management, and tax evasion. Possibility of theft is one of the highest risks associated with the purchasing of these pieces. The NFTs provide an overall fix for the ownership of digital work and track it’s sale. 

The piece itself, “The First 5000 Days,” is a collage of images on a digital platform. On May 1, 2007, Winkelmann first started the process of creating this piece by taking one photo a day. Since then, he has not missed a single day. He was originally inspired by Tom Judd, who completed a drawing everyday for a year. During the journey of the piece, Winkelmann focused on one medium or skill per year. This included many technology based programs, such as Adobe Illustrator and Cinema 4D. The piece represents work over the course of 13 years and contains extremely powerful meaning towards the usage of time and how far persistently working at something can get you. For example, “The Scream,” by Edvard Munch, represents the artist’s soul in a moment of existential crisis. “The First 5000 Days is being priced as the third highest-paid for work by a living artist at auction. The debates around the piece are based on the fact that it is not a physical object. Other pieces that have been sold for insane amounts higher than $69.3 million, like Jeff Koons’s “Rabbit”, are able to be approached and observed in real life. 

The main driving force behind the conceptual art is planning, the idea being that the artist already decided on how they will execute the piece. Many current-day conceptual artists were bored with the way art objects were sold and bought; they viewed these extravagant pieces as a symbol of money and no longer a powerful work. This is because of the buying process behind the art that is involved with the NFT. People have been selling and buying different variations of digital files for years, so why not let many more multi-million dollar pieces be sold? Winkelmann’s First 5000 Days represents work over the course of 13 years and contains extremely powerful meaning towards the usage of time and how far persistently working at something can get you. 

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/beeple-digital-artwork-sale-perspective/2021/03/15/6afc1540-8369-11eb-81db-b02f0398f49a_story.html 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/03/12/nft-beeple-christies-blockchain/