Historic Sale of 104 Cryptopunks Fails at Sotheby’s

The success of NFTs (non-fungible token) is sometimes a path strewn with pitfalls… While Sotheby’s prepared 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 ultimately canceled by the anonymous collector.

The explosion of NFTs, a vulgar speculative bubble for some, a revolutionary paradigm of modernity for others, is shaking the art market. The new digital variants of art are an inevitable success, given the pharaonic prices for the sale of certain NFTs and the opening of centers entirely devoted to them, such as the Seattle NFT Museum. In early February, Sotheby’s announced the auction, scheduled for February 23, of 104 CryptoPunks NFTs. They were sold in one lot and were estimated at between 20 and 30 million euros. But the collection was unexpectedly pulled from the first minutes of the sale.


CryptoPunk Pixel Art

Created in June 2017, CryptoPunk is a series that originally consisted of 10,000 characters, generated by algorithms, which fueled the onset of the NFT wave. Each of the characters has their own characteristics and a unique physical personality. Symbolic digital avatars of the mysterious NFT market, they take the form of pixelated portraits, in the same pose, looking slightly sideways. Initially, CryptoPunks were free, anyone could own one. After “stock run-off” those who wanted to get it had to buy it back from the owner.

CryptoPunk #1817. Pretext Image ©️Sotheby’s

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

CryptoPunk #6347.  Pretext Image ©️Sotheby's

CryptoPunk #6347. Pretext Image ©️Sotheby’s

Digital avatars set aside

The sale at Sotheby’s, which was set to take place on February 23, involved a collection of about 100 avatars. They are defined both by a type (alien, monkey, zombie, human) and by an attribute (hat, glasses, cigarettes, etc.). The collection collected here is all about people. Their value varies between $28,000 (about $25,000) and $11.8 million (10.5 million dollars), a record during the sale of CryptoPunk #7523 by Sotheby’s in June 2021.

Punk, rockers, beards, bald men, smokers and long hair took the spotlight... before returning to the beginning ©️Sotheby's

Punks, rockers, beards, bald men, smokers and long hair took the spotlight… before returning to the beginning ©️Sotheby’s

The event, scheduled for 7 p.m., took place in a packed auction room at Sotheby’s headquarters (Upper East Side, New York) and was broadcast live around the world. The opening bid was set at $14 million and the sale started for several minutes without anything happening… At 7:25 PM Sotheby’s announced live that the work had been withdrawn, following a discussion with 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. The set, which represents more than 1% of all existing CyperPunks, is one of the largest such groups operated by a single wallet, Sotheby’s said.

A big disappointment for Sotheby’s, that saw in this event” an unprecedented showcase for NFT and digital art, with a presentation comparable to that of the largest and most publicized contemporary and modern art sales ‘, the auction house said in a press release. By 7:38 p.m. all listing of the auction had disappeared from Sotheby’s website and the lots had been 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 an important social phenomenon. For now, the CryptoPunks will not dethrone the digital work of anonymous artist Pak, which sold for $91.1 million on the online platform Nifty Gateway last December.

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