As 2021 draws to a close, it seems like a good time to revisit the explosive market for NFT art. Last we checked in at the start of summer, an astonishing 14 NFT artworks had topped the $1 million threshold in sales.
Those figures did not include the popular—and extremely pricey—NFT series CryptoPunks, a collection of 10,000 pieces rather than individual one-of-one works.
If included here, four punks, created in 2017 by LarvaLabs, would make the list, ranging in price from $6.63 million to $11.75 million. (A purported $500 million Punk sale doesn’t count.) Other crypto-art collections have also seen massive auction results, with Sotheby’s selling a set of 101 Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs—also out of a 10,000-piece collection—for $24.4 million in October.
And as you might expect, one artist continues to ranks above the pack when it comes to NFT dominance. On our first list of the most expensive NFTs published in March, Beeple held three of the top 10 slots. He maintained that ratio in June, but improved his positions, taking all three of the top slots—and he still controls the top of the list today, despite half of the top 10 being new entries.
Missing from the new list, however, is another one of the medium’s heaviest hitters, the anonymous artist Pak, who ranked fourth back in March. As of June, Pak’s $1.444444 million sale of The Switch and $1.355555 million sale of The Pixel at Sotheby’s and Nifty Gateway clocked in at number eight and number nine of all-time sales of individual NFTs.
But by some measures, Pak could actually top this list, as the artist’s latest offering, The Merge, was sold in 266,445 shares to nearly 30,000 buyers for $91.8 million.
Based on that sales total, Pak is now the world’s most-expensive living artist, eclipsing his fellow crypto-art master Beeple, who landed in the number three spot with his record-breaking Christie’s sale this spring (more on that below), as well as more traditional blue-chip artists such as David Hockney and Jeff Koons, whose sculpture Rabbit (1986) holds the current benchmark, selling for $91 million sale in May 2019.
See how the rest of the new top 10 shakes out below—but watch this space, as the NFT landscape is constantly changing.
10. XCOPY, Some Asshole
$3.8 million, SuperRare
An early NFT adopter who has been minting his art on SuperRare since the site’s 2018 launch, XCOPY is a crypto-art pioneer based in London. Some Asshole was only the seventh NFT offered on the site, and was the first character minted by the artist, who gets 10 percent of the resale price anytime his work changes hands on SuperRare. In September, collector Cozomo de’ Medici, who may or may not actually be the rapper Snoop Dawg, made Some Asshole his first purchase on SuperRare.
9. Mad Dog Jones, Replicator
$4.1 million, April 2021, Phillips
Following in the footsteps of the two biggest auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Phillips also ventured into the NFT world, offering a unique spin on the medium with their sale of work by Michah “Mad Dog Jones” Dowbak. The piece, Replicator, depicts a copy maker in the workplace, and, like that old-school piece of office equipment, the NFT itself is duplicative. The work is designed to generate new NFTs every 28 days for a total of 180 to 220 unique NFTs—creating lots of additional resale value. The work’s $4.1 million sale made Dowbak Canada’s most expensive living artist.
8. Edward Snowden, Stay Free (Edward Snowden)
$5.4 million, April 2021, Foundation
Somewhat of an outlier on a list filled with crypto-art’s biggest names is National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. He minted an NFT featuring the 2020 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that mass surveillance by the NSA was in violation of the law. What makes it art, you ask? A portrait of the former computer intelligence consultant by the artist and photographer Platon is overlaid atop the text. The work was sold to benefit Snowden’s Freedom of the Press Foundation.
7. freeross, Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection
$5.93 million, SuperRare, December 2021
This is a complicated one. Ross Ulbricht founded and ran the darknet market website Silk Road from 2011 until 2013. That’s when Ulbricht was arrested and eventually convicted to a double life sentence on charges of money laundering, computer hacking, and narcotics trafficking. But because the site operated on bitcoin, Ulbricht is credited among many in the cryptocurrency community with fueling bitcoin’s success.
Hoping to raise money to seek his release from prison and to support the family members of incarcerated adults, Ulbricht created an NFT based on a collection of his writing and artworks. It includes both childhood drawings and works made during his incarceration, such as the graphite pencil drawing Perspective.
The winning bid was from a decentralised autonomous organisation, FreeRossDAO, that is dedicated to seeking Ulbricht’s release, according to CoinRivet. Some 4,000 contributors raised 2,836 ETH ($12.2 million) to win the auction, and will now receive $ROSS governance tokens representing their fractional stake in the NFT.
6. XCOPY, A Coin for the Ferryman
$6 million, SuperRare, November 2021
This four-year-old NFT is another one of XCOPY’s first-minted works. A SuperRare user named @0xclipse had purchased the artwork directly from the artist not long after its creation for just 0.5 ETH, then around $139, reports CryptoBriefing. In recent months, XCOPY has become recognized as an NFT pioneer, triggering a market explosion.
5. Beeple, Ocean Front
$6 million, Nifty Gateway, March 2021
Beeple minted this NFT from his “Everydays” series just weeks after his headline-grabbing Christies’s debut. The work is meant to serve as a warning about the catastrophic potential of climate change, and the proceeds went to the charity the Open Earth Foundation. The work’s owner is noted NFT collector Justin Sun, who prevailed in a bidding war after falling short as the underbidder on Everydays.
4. XCOPY, Right-click and Save As guy
$6.57 million, December 2021, SuperRare
The most expensive purchase to date by Cozomo de’ Medici takes a not-so-subtle swipe at one of the main criticisms leveled against NFT art—namely, that you can right-click and save an artwork for free, rather than shelling out to own it on the blockchain. XCOPY created the work in 2018, and shared it again on Twitter in August 2020 as NFT prices began to creep northward. “They said it at $100 they’ll still say it at $100,000,” he wrote, failing to predict the extent to which prices were about to balloon.
3. Beeple, Crossroads
$6.6 million, February 2021, Nifty Gateway
In October 2020, the digital art landscape changed forever when Beeple minted his first NFTs for a Nifty Gateway sale titled “The First Drop.” The top lot, so to speak, was Crossroads, an artwork tied to the U.S. presidential election. When Joe Biden was declared the victor, the work locked in one of two possible images: a bloated, graffitied Donald Trump corpse lying ignored in a field by the side of the road. It had already sold for $66,666.66, then a record for the nascent medium. In February, as Beeple’s Christie’s auction was opening, the work resold for 100 times the original price, for $6.6 million.
2. Beeple, HUMAN ONE
$29.8 million, November 2021, Christie’s
Beeple returned to Christie’s, the scene of his monster March sale that jumpstarted the NFT boom, with a hybrid digital and physical artwork on offer in November. The generative sculpture, HUMAN ONE, includes a rotating polished aluminum monolith with LED screens and a corresponding NFT. Both components are dynamic, with Beeple retaining the ability to change or add to its contents remotely forever—at sale time, it featured an astronaut walking across shifting landscapes. The work is by definition perpetually unfinished, a simultaneously intriguing and unsettling proposition that did not deter winning bidder Ryan Zurrer, a Zurich-based venture capitalist and crypto billionaire, from snapping it up.
1. Beeple, Everydays—The First 5000 Days
$69 million, March 2021, Christie’s
Christie’s took a big chance in March when it agreed to sell its first purely digital blockchain artwork in Beeple’s Everydays – The First 5000 Days, which went on offer with an opening bid of just $100. But while the auction house’s traditional customers may not have known a blockchain from their behind, Beeple was already a star in the cryptoart community, having quickly entered six-figure territory with the sale of Crossroads.
Everydays commemorates the first 5,000 days of Beeple’s ongoing daily art project, begun May 1, 2007, with a collage of each and every drawing. That includes the crude early doodles was well as the digital renderings that earned him online stardom. The bidding at Christie’s skyrocketed to $1 million in less than an hour, with the final result, of course, catapulting Beeple nearly to the top of the pantheon of living artists. Can any NFT surpass it? Stay tuned in 2022 to find out in the rapidly evolving crypto-art space.
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