Yesterday, Sotheby’s achieved $16.8m for the sale of a collection of JPGs that were created within the last fortnight. That this figure seems comparatively paltry says a lot about the current, topsy-turvy state of the art market.
Within a week of Christie’s $69.3m Beeple NFT sale, Sotheby’s announced it had enlisted the digital artist and “omniscient designer/developer/wizard” Pak to collaborate on a collection of works known as The Fungible Collection, details of which were then teased out over the next week.
The sale, which ran from 12 to 14 April and was hosted on NFT platform Niftygateway, was broadly divided into two parts. The first consisted of more traditional NFT drops (something of a contradiction in terms) in which two standalone works, both one-off editions, were offered up to online bidders. The Switch brought in 10 bids upon its release on 12 April, but after climbing to $1.4m, received no further offers after the first day and was sold to @damien.
The second second standalone work, The Pixel—which is literally a single grey pixel—made $1.3m, following a last-minute bidding war that extended its sale by an hour. It went to the digital art collector Eric Young who tweeted that The Pixel had “occupied a great deal of [his] mind over the past few days”.
The sale’s second part was less straightforward. Alongside the standalone works, Pak also dropped a series of “open edition” cube works. They were initially released at a price of one cube costing $500 and ranged up to a 1,000-cube work for $500,000. Corresponding NFTs would then be issued depending on how many cubes the bidder had purchased.
During the first day’s 15-minute sales window, 19,740 cubes across eight price tiers sold, totalling $9.8m. On the second day, prices were doubled, so one cube cost $1,000, and 3,268 sold for a total of $3.3m in the same timeframe. On the third day, one cube was again raised to $1,500, with 593 selling. In total, 3,080 unique buyers spent about $14m on 23,598 cubes.
Adding to the complexity, four works on offer were not technically for sale, but were instead used to incentivise bidders to spend money or to acknowledge those who had supported Pak. For example, Complexity, an edition of 100, was gifted to the 100 individuals who purchased the most cubes.
The multifaceted structure of the sale led one person on a Clubhouse channel hosted by Sotheby’s to comment that Pak’s practice, and this sale itself, could be likened to NFT performance art. This is not the first time that questions have arisen as to whether Pak’s work can be considered NFT performance.
Max Moore, Sotheby’s co-head of contemporary art day sale, says in a statement: “The incredible prices achieved […] are remarkable in their own right, but for me the true measure of success for this sale was the overall engagement and number of participants we could bring to the sale.”
Of the results, Pak, in keeping with the aesthetic simplicity of his million dollar work, merely commented: “Hello digital :]”.