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Brave New Art World: The Rise and Rise of the NFT

Marcus Fox, Global Managing Director 20th/21st Century Art at Christie’s, explains the premise of the NFT and the impact on the art world today

On 11 March 2021, Christie’s became the first major auction house to sell a purely digital work of art as a non-fungible token (NFT). The piece, Everydays: The First 5000 Days by Beeple, achieved almost $70 million. During the same year, Christie’s Art + Tech Summit, dedicated to NFTs, sold out—more than 1,000 people attended the event in person at Rockefeller Center in New York City, and even more tuned in virtually from all over the world.

It feels a bit like discovering a new world. To come across new platforms, new artists, new collectors, new modes of communication, new currencies is unlike anything I’ve experienced—Marcus Fox, Christie’s

2021 was a significant year for the NFT market, which is expected to grow by $147 billion between 2022 and 2026, according to market research company Technavio. Much of the anticipated growth is attributed to increasing demand for digital artworks. To find out more about this brave new world, and what the future might hold, Luxury Defined spoke to Marcus Fox, Global Managing Director 20th/21st Century Art for Christie’s.

NFT artwork of Andy Warhol's Campbell soup can
Marking another significant moment for NFTs was Christie’s Andy Warhol: Machine Made sale in May 2021, on behalf of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. It attracted collectors from the United States, Europe, and Asia. Pictured is Campbell’s by Andy Warhol, which dates back to 1985.

In simple terms, what is an NFT?
An NFT (non-fungible token) is a publicly viewable, permanent record that is unique. We are still in the early stages of utilizing how this technology can work and be applied across many industries. For the art world, it is a way to demonstrate ownership (think a digital certificate of authenticity) that could be transferred and allow for an active market in a way that never previously existed.

Why are you excited about them?
It feels a bit like discovering a new world. To come across new platforms, new artists, new collectors, new modes of communication, new currencies is unlike anything I’ve experienced. It’s energizing to engage with communities that have no preconceptions about how the system works and are finding a different but related path.

Seeing the interactions between traditional and digital art worlds, the learning and sharing of knowledge, and the expansion in both realms has been inspiring. It becomes ever easier to imagine a future where there is no distinction and another medium is available to all artists.

Beeple's First 5000 days NFT artwork
On May 1 2007, Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, set out to create and post a new work of art every day indefinitely. These form one of the most celebrated bodies of work in the history of digital art. Everydays: The First 5000 Days comprises every image from Beeple’s first 5,000 days as a single composition.

Christie’s was one of the first major auction houses to show an interest in NFTs. Could you tell us about a couple of key sales?
Christie’s is proud to have taken NFTs mainstream. When we sold Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days for almost $70 million it changed the landscape forever. NFT became a household term. We’ve had an opportunity to work with an incredible variety of artists on projects ranging from a transgender coming-of-age story (FEWOCiOUS), facilitating digital art made decades ago by a master of the 20th century (Andy Warhol), and many things in between. The range is staggering.

Why might readers be interested in NFTs?
If you’re interested in creativity and technology and the intersection points of these two areas, this is an exciting time. For some, the idea of owning something intangible is difficult to reconcile. For those of us who are less digitally “native” I’d suggest doing some research. You might not love everything you see but you will be challenged and experience something different that could impact your view of the world. And that is a pretty good start.

Banner image: ARCADIA is a narrative poem illuminated through digital art and elevated with electronic music. Through the five-chapter story, the author­scontemporary visual artist Andrés Reisinger, Grammy-winning musician RAC, and bestselling poet Arch Hades­explore concepts of modern-day anxiety and loneliness. It was sold by Christie’s in November last year for $525,000.