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Brief Published: 26 Oct 2020

The Blockchain-Powered Digital Art Boom

Ben Gentilli

As we explore in Unlocking Virtual Economies, non-fungible tokens and crypto art marketplaces have infiltrated high culture, as artists, auctioneers and art dealers moved their businesses online during the pandemic. We track how these highbrow digital art communities are leading to a revaluation of virtual platforms and sales mechanisms, lending unprecedented high-cultural cachet to an already booming market for virtual art.

Block 21, a painting and digital artwork by London-based artist Ben Gentilli of the Robert Alice project, was sold at Christie’s post-war and contemporary art auction on October 7. It is the 21st painting of 40 from the series Portraits of a Mind, which is a succession of disc-shaped paintings inscribed with the entirety of the original Bitcoin v0.1.0 code. Gentilli describes it as a ‘portrait’ of the cryptocurrency’s mysterious founder, known only by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Completing the artwork is a dynamic, NFT version of the panel compiled by Async Art.

The work fetched $131,250, including fees – more than 10 times its lower estimate of $12k – making it the most expensive NFT ever sold. The previous record of $105k was set in September; in July it was $55k. With blue-chip auctioneers like Christie’s buying into the boom, prices look set to continue rising rapidly.

The next day (October 8), multimedia artist Shu Lea Cheang – whose work is collected by the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, among others – began selling her creations on MakersPlace, a sales platform for ‘rare digital art’ powered by Ethereum. Users can collect, display, invest in and resell limited-edition works which are stamped with an indelible digital signature and verified through the blockchain. BioNet Baby, Cheang’s unique sci-fi video work, fetched $18,744 after a bidding war.

These new highbrow endorsements will surely inspire confidence among an increasingly powerful cohort of digitally native collectors. See Decentralised Society for more ways virtual economies are disrupting traditional industries.