In recent months, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have become the latest craze among art collectors. Christie's is hoping to build on this momentum with the offer for auction of a digital work focused on CryptoPunks in the form of an NFT. At the same time, certain experts are worried that burgeoning sales of NFTs may lead to a speculative bubble.
Christie's first sally on the NFT market was as dazzling as it was unexpected. The auction house owned by François Pinault caused a sensation last March, when it sold "Everydays: The First 5,000 Days" by American artist Beeple for the unprecedented sum of 69.3 million dollars. And it does not plan to rest on its laurels. Christie's will shortly propose a digital work by the Larva Labs collective in the form of an NFT in an upcoming sale entitled "21st Century" to be held on May 13 in New York.
The image is structured around nine CryptoPunks, pixelated avatars of "misfits and eccentrics" inspired by the London punk scene. Ever since they were created in 2017 by developers Matt Hall and John Watkinson, these iconic characters have come to represent internet culture. Christie's contemporary art specialist Noah Davis, has even described them as the "alpha and omega of the CryptoArt movement."
A market on the verge of implosion?
The collection of CryptoPunks is expected to sell for 7-9 million dollars, according to the auction house, which points out that the estimate reflects collectors' interest in these virtual avatars. Last February, a CryptoPunk in the form of a fedora-sporting monkey was bought for 800 ethers, around 1.5 million dollars. Another, this time an alien smoking a pipe, more recently sold for 7.5 million dollars.
"With this special lot in the 21st Century Evening Sale, the advent of CryptoArt is truly, inarguably upon us," affirms Davis. "Welcome to the future."
However, some observers are more reserved than the Christie's specialist. At a time when other auction houses including Sotheby's and Phillips are also seeking to take advantage of NFT fever, the market is beginning to show signs of weakness. According to specialist website NonFungible.com, the average value of these unique blockchain works slumped from 19 million dollars to 3 million dollars by March 25 of this year, a decline of more than 85%. "We're in a frenzy of speculation. I don't know how long these prices will be sustainable,” said Robert Norton, head of blockchain art company Verisart, to the New York Times. “We're living in a moment of collective hysteria.”