And now, the use of NFTs just got a bit more mainstream: Christie's became the first major auction house to sell a fully digital, NFT-based artwork, which sold for over $69.3 million on Thursday.
NFTs are unique cryptocurrency tokens used to represent assets. In this case, the asset is a digital work of art.
NFTs can be bought and sold, but since they run on blockchain (a decentralized digital ledger that documents transactions), ownership and validity of the asset they represent can be tracked.
So when an artist puts up for sale an NFT-based artwork, the buyer would purchase a unique token that represents the asset (the artwork) and can then prove authenticity and ownership of the digital art through blockchain.
Christie's auctioned an NFT-based work of art called "Everydays: The First 5000 Days" by Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple. Its eight-figure $69 million price tag was record breaking for a sale of an NFT. Bidding for the piece started at $100 on Feb. 25.
The work is a digital collage of 5,000 futuristic images that Winkelmann, 39, made — one image every single day for 5,000 days — starting on May 1, 2007 through January 7, 2021.
"I almost look at it now like I'm a political cartoonist," Winkelmann told Christie's in a release describing the auction. "Except instead of doing sketches, I'm using the most advanced 3D tools to make comments on current events, almost in real-time."
Winkelmann is a well known digital artist with a following of nearly 2 million on Instagram. He has created videos and graphics for celebrities, like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, and displays for big brands, like Louis Vuitton, Nike and Apple.
Winkelmann has made millions of dollars selling his work, with his sets often selling out in minutes. For example, his "2020 Everydays" collection of 20 works of NFT-based, 3D digital art sold for $3.5 million in December.
The work Christie's auctioned is NFT "minted," or blockchain verified, by MakersPlace, a digital creation platform, Winkelmann said in an Instagram post on Tuesday. "I could not be more honored and humbled to be representing the digital art community in this historic sale!" he added.
Also, for the first time, the auction house allowed ether (the cryptocurrency that runs on the Ethereum blockchain) as payment for the artwork's principal price, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. Those who have paid for Winkelmann's digital art in the past have mostly and commonly used ether as payment.
"Acquiring Beeple's work is a unique opportunity to own an entry in the blockchain itself created by one of the world's leading digital artists," Noah Davis, a post-war and contemporary art specialist at Christies, said in a release.
Billionaire tech guru Mark Cuban agrees, and was excited to see how the auction will impact the space of NFT-based art, he tells CNBC Make It.
"Art is art. It's always been available in almost unlimited forms," Cuban said. "Beeple is a legend, so it makes perfect sense for this to happen. And it may bring traditional art collectors to the digital space."
As cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin and ether, have become increasingly popular, NFTs have followed.
Cuban is one big name auctioning digital goods online, including a Mavs Suns Game Day Experience video. Cuban also owns NFT-based digital assets, including "Maxi Kleber dunk Moment" card that he considers a collectible and just as valuable as a physical sport card. Although Cuban said he wouldn't sell his, other digital Maxi Kleber dunk sets have sold for anywhere from $35 to as much as $800 on the NBA Top Shot website.
According to Cuban, NFTs, smart contracts and blockchain will be the future of business.
"This generation knows that a smart contract and the digital good it reflects or a CryptoAsset are a better investment than old school see, touch or feel uses," Cuban wrote in a January blog post.
This story has been updated to reflect that "Everydays: The First 5000 Days" sold for over $69 million.