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Auction House Christie's Lists It's First NFT Art Piece - Fei Lu

RENEE RODEN: The auction house, Christie’s, is shaking up the art world with a new listing...and it’s completely digital. The current bid is $3.5M. Now, the art world is wondering: Will this change how art is valued? Fei Lu has the story.

FEI LU, HOST: Christie’s has a new listing titled “Everydays - the first 5,000 days." It’s by the American artist, Beeple. The piece is a multicolored collage of images - a gradient from light to dark, created over 5000 days. But it’s digital. So why pay for art anybody could take a screenshot of or download? Andrew Perkins is Co-Founder of SuperRare, a marketplace for digital art.

JONATHAN PERKINS: So you know, if you have a JPEG, or an mp3, as we know, you can, you know, I can email you the image, and then we both have it, you know, they're free to copy, basically infinitely copyable. And that's how the internet works.

LU: Perkins says with digital art, the pieces are just normal GIFs or JPEGs. But one thing makes digital art collectable: digital tokens.

PERKINS: But what has changed is we now have a digital object that is truly scarce. And that's the token itself.

LU: Some tokens are used as currency, like Bitcoin. But other tokens have uses like authenticating art. Those tokens are called NFTs.

AMY WHITAKER: An NFT is a non fungible token, sometimes called a nifty.

LU: That’s Amy Whitaker, she’s a NYU professor specializing in art business. Fungible tokens can be duplicated. NFTs, or non fungible tokens can’t. There’s only one Mona Lisa, just like each NFT is unique. NFTs exist on Blockchain networks --, each block in the blockchain is a ledger, permanently recording information, like art ownership. So NFTs allow digital art to be rare, just like traditional paintings or sculptures.

WHITAKER: You might have a piece by Warhol and another piece by Warhol, but they're not technically interchangeable. and the fact that NFT's allow digital images to be put in a container that allows them to function as an original object, even if those images are also replicated and widely available.

LU: The pandemic might be the perfect environment for NFTs too. Andrew Raftery teaches printmaking, engraving, and ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design.

ANDREW RAFTERY: And it actually seems really kind of appropriate that people would be testing the waters right now on something that goes beyond just buying an object online.

LU: Skeptics of digital art say it isn’t “real”. That art needs to be a traditional tangible objects something an artist makes with their hands. But Raftery says the art world has a history of skepticism towards technology. Like when photography first came out. Or, more recently in the 60’s, when Andy Warhol adopted commercial screenprinting techniques into his practice, permanently changing printmaking.

RAFTERY: Using the whole online medium to introduce a new work of art. And actually, that that would be the art that the art would exist in that way. I think it's, it's a it's a fascinating moment.

LU: It’s not traditional, but it can profitable. Andrew Perkins says his company, SuperRare, did over $10 million in volume selling digital work in February. He says that some in the art market are nervous digital art might disrupt traditional practices, but he’s optimistic about NFT’s future.

PERKINS: I think people are very kind of like, open minded and fascinated by this. And I think, you know, Christie's selling its first NFT in the Beeple sale is an indicator of that. I do think that what's happening, we're, what we're seeing now is a whole new digital, digitally native breed of collectors on the rise. And I think that's going to really revolutionize the art market.

LU: The art market will better understand how revolutionary NFT art is in seven days. That’s, when Christie’s Beeple sale ends.

Fei Lu, Columbia Radio News.


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