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But what do I buy if I buy an NFT? »: In Miami, virtual art becomes real

Pair stéphanie chayet

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ReportageA small revolution rocked the Art Basel Miami contemporary art fair in December. For the first time, the parallel universe of digital works based on blockchains, NFTs and cryptocurrencies has entered it. A market that is often ignored or even despised by galleries and traditional collectors. Maybe not for long.

Wednesday December 1st. It’s VIP day at Art Basel Miami, after its 2020 pandemic eclipse. It’s not yet noon, but collectors have already been unleashed like moire butterflies in the American seaside resort. A street style photographer tries to capture flock to the Bass Museum to witness “Art in the NFT Age,” a conversation moderated by art collector and dealer Adam Lindemann.

Inside, ticking heels, silk dresses, well-cut suits. More unexpected: a “crypto baby” t-shirt, tattoos, hats, jeans with holes. The museum invited a legend, Peter Saul, one of the last contemporaries of pop art, but it is not for him that the room is full. We come to see the surprise star of 2021: Mike Winkelmann aka Beeple.

A first work sold for $ 69.3 million

Still unknown to the art world last year, this 40-year-old American graphic designer is today the third most expensive living artist after Jeff Koons and David Hockney. On March 11, in a market hampered by the cancellation of fairs and the immobility of collectors, his work Every day: the first 5000 days, gathering 5,000 digital images of his creation, was auctioned online for 69.3 million euros. euros. From dollars to two Indian billionaires in Singapore.

Artist Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, at Art Basel Miami.  In March, the work of this American graphic designer, assembling 5,000 digital images, was auctioned online for $ 69.3 million. Artist Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, at Art Basel Miami. In March, the work of this American graphic designer, assembling 5,000 digital images, was auctioned online for $ 69.3 million. James Jackman for M Le magazine du Monde

What they bought at that price was not so much the archive of this infinitely reproducible work as a digital certificate of ownership whose authenticity is verified by blockchain technology: the famous NFT, or “non-fungible token” in French. Blockchains, as we know, are databases that keep the unforgetable trace of the adventures of intangible goods. Human beings are found to be able to adhere to virtual objects if ownership is guaranteed.

In the artistic field, this allows genres that are difficult to monetize (digital art, but also part of conceptual or performing art) to expand their market. As the young Christie employee who handled this historic sale summed it up, “There is a before and after to life just as there is a before and after of Jesus Christ.”

Read also Digital artwork sells for $ 69.3 million at Christie’s, the art market in turmoil

The work of the interested party is scrolled in slideshow mode during the discussion. We see Abraham Lincoln whipping a naked Donald Trump, Tom Hanks battling a giant coronavirus, Ronald Reagan clad in breasts. With hair like Riquet and a tassel, Winkelmann says he began creating digital images while studying computer science, a daily practice he never gave up despite working full time to “pay the bills.” Over the years, his fan club has grown on Instagram, reaching 2.3 million subscribers, five times more than Jeff Koons.

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