NFTs: a historic sale of 104 cryptopunks falls through at Sotheby’s | Knowledge of the Arts

The success of NFTs (non-fungible token) is sometimes a path strewn with pitfalls… While Sotheby’s was preparing to sell 104 NFTs from the CryptoPunks collection, for a record amount of 20 to 30 million dollars (between 18 and 26 million euros), the sale was canceled in extremis by the anonymous collector.

The explosion of NFTs, a vulgar speculative bubble for some, a revolutionary paradigm of modernity for others, is shaking up the art market. The new digital variations of art are an inevitable success, given the pharaonic prices for the sale of certain NFTs, and the opening of centers entirely dedicated to it, such as the Seattle NFT museum. In early February, Sotheby’s announced the auction, scheduled for February 23, of 104 CryptoPunks NFTs. Sold in a single lot, they were estimated between 20 and 30 million euros. But the collection was unexpectedly withdrawn from the first minutes of the sale.


CryptoPunk Pixel Art

Created in June 2017, CryptoPunk is a series originally composed of 10,000 characters, generated by algorithms, which boosted the beginnings of the NFT wave. Each of the characters has its own characteristics and a unique physical personality. Emblematic digital avatars of the mysterious NFTs market, they take the form of pixelated portraits, in the same posture, looking slightly sideways. Initially, CryptoPunks were free, anyone could own one. After “stock run-off”, those who wanted to obtain it then had to buy it back from its owner.

CryptoPunk #1817. Pretext image ©️Sotheby’s

Since then, the market has exploded, and NFTs are traded for several million euros or several hundred ethereum, the benchmark cryptocurrency. As their name suggests, the CryptoPunks challenge the standards of artistic production, and attract a whole new audience fond of this iconic series, true Pop Art 2.0.

CryptoPunk #6347. Pretext image ©️Sotheby's

CryptoPunk #6347. Pretext image ©️Sotheby’s

Sidelined digital avatars

The sale at Sotheby’s, which was to take place on February 23, concerned a collection of around a hundred avatars. They are both defined by a type (alien, monkey, zombie, human) and by an attribute (hat, glasses, cigarettes, etc.). In the collection brought together here, it is only about humans. Their value ranges between 28,000 dollars (about 25,000 euros) and 11.8 million dollars (10.5 million euros), a record during the sale of CryptoPunk #7523 by Sotheby’s in June 2021.

Punk, rockers, bearded, bald, smokers and long hair were in the spotlight... before their return to square one ©️Sotheby's

Punks, rockers, bearded, bald, smokers and long hair were in the spotlight… before they returned to square one ©️Sotheby’s

Scheduled for 7 p.m., the event took place in a crowded sales room at the headquarters of Sotheby’s (Upper East Side, New York), and was broadcast live around the world. The opening bid was set at $14 million and the sale started without anything happening for several minutes… At 7:25 p.m., Sotheby’s announced live that the work had been withdrawn, following a discussion with the logger @0x650d. On twitter, he posted: nvm, decided to hodl [sic] (“Too bad, I decided to keep it”), followed by a series of memes praising his decision. The author had acquired all 104 Punks in a single blockchain transaction. Representing more than 1% of all CyperPunks in existence, the set is one of the largest such groups held by a single wallet, Sotheby’s said.

A great disappointment for Sotheby’s, which saw in this event ” an unprecedented showcase for NFTs and digital art, with a presentation comparable to that of the largest and most publicized contemporary and modern art sales “, specifies the auction house in a press release. By 7:38 p.m., all mention of the auction had disappeared from Sotheby’s website and the lots were removed. The reasons for this sudden withdrawal are not yet known. This event confirms the volatile, speculative and uncertain nature of NFTs, which nevertheless represent a major social phenomenon. The CryptoPunks will not dethrone, for the moment, the digital work of anonymous artist Pak, sold for 91.1 million dollars on the online platform Nifty Gateway last December.



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NFTs: a historic sale of 104 cryptopunks falls through at Sotheby’s | Knowledge of the Arts


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