How much for the crypto-Mona Lisa?

October 19, 2022

Inauguration of incubators, declared desire to subsidize the sector: the NFTs seem to have a bright future ahead of them under the presidency of Emmanuel Macron. With global players in culture, video games and the luxury industry, France has what it takes to become a European and global NFT platform, declared the Minister of the Economy on Monday on BFM. We need to accompany this movement with the support of public money. »

Franz Kaiser and Marie-Noël Rio present in the October issue these new speculative media, carried by auction houses like Christie’s, certain museums and billions of cryptocurrency. In the contemporary art sector, where auction houses set the most spectacular records, they write, the NFT, which knows the notion of original only by digital mechanism, can brilliantly satisfy the business model auctions… »


Selling a JPEG file can bring in a fortune, if at least it is unique, irreplaceable, not exchangeable with another file: it thus has certain characteristics of a work of art. Digital authentication and payment in cryptocurrency then legitimize this “ non-fungible token (NFT).

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Refik Anadol. — “ Architecting the Metaverse (The Architecture of the Metaverse), installation created with the architecture studio Zaha Hadid for the Dongdaemun Design Plaza museum in Seoul, 2022

© Refik Anadol Studio

Le March 11, 2021, after a fierce fourteen-day bidding battle, during which Christie’s website nearly collapsed, the non fungible token (or NFT, non-fungible token) by American designer Michael Winkelmann, aka Beeple, titled Everydays: The First 5000 Days and priced at $100, was acquired by an anonymous buyer for $69.3 million (€57.9 million) — making it the third-most expensive work by a living artist ever sold at auction. It is a collage, a mosaic of five thousand digital images that Beeple made and posted on the Internet from May 1, 2007 at the rate of one per day. There is nothing particularly exciting about these images: they come from an aesthetic postapocalyptic vaguely inspired by Pixar films or video games, and the artistic content is reduced to a simple concept: one image per day for five thousand days. A type of device long employed by classical conceptual artists, such as On Kawara (1933-2014), known for his series of dates painted day after day.

Beeple has therefore put on sale a simple JPEG file – acronym for Joint Photographic Experts Group – a type of file commonly used on the Internet, by digital cameras and smartphones, which can be reproduced ad infinitum free of charge. How then can such an increase be explained? ? Apart from the fact that this is the first auction sale of a purely digital work, a novelty that arouses the desire of collectors, two main factors come into play: it is an NFT registered in a blockchain (a database using a decentralized system based on cryptography), which gives it the quality of a unique and irreplaceable object, like a painting by Rembrandt for example ; and, ahead of the sale, Christie’s announced that, for the first time, the house would accept payment in cryptocurrency. The transaction (…)

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Franz Kaiser &

Marie-Noel Rio

Respectively art historian, curator, and writer (last book published: Hamburg Hansaplatz No. 7, four years in German misery, Delga, 2021).

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How much for the crypto-Mona Lisa?

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