Natively Digital: Sotheby’s NFT Sale Spotlights First-Ever Minted NFT

Nazia Safi
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In April of 2021, Sotheby’s hosted its first dedicated sale of NFTs in partnership with anonymous digital artist Pak. The three-day auction netted USD 16,825,999 and attracted over 3,000 buyers.  

The auction house is now gearing up for a group survey of digital art made since the inception of NFTs in 2014. Titled ‘Natively Digital: A Curated NFT Sale,’ the event will showcase works across six categories: early NFTs, emerging NFT artists, digital pop/futurists, conceptual, generative, and community-elected artists.

Art Blocks, 19 Works, 2020-21. Image from Sotheby’s.
Art Blocks, 19 Works, 2020-21. Image from Sotheby’s.

“We are honored to host the first curated NFT auction at Sotheby’s, following the tremendous success of our debut NFT sale with the crypto designer-native artist Pak,” said Michael Bouhanna, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Specialist. “Natively Digital will bring to auction a talented, diverse and disruptive collection of artists and digital creators in a celebration of the medium and the various movements forming within the NFT space.”

The timed sale will run from June 3rd, 2021, at 10:00 AM EDT until June 10th, 2021. Bidding for all works will start at $100. Learn more about the key lots before the auction begins.

Kevin McCoy, Quantum, 2014. Image from Sotheby’s.
Kevin McCoy, Quantum, 2014. Image from Sotheby’s.

Quantum, 2014 by Kevin McCoy

Kevin McCoy’s Quantum became the first NFT ever minted on May 2nd, 2014. This historical work features a code-driven pixelated octagon that automatically transforms into new shapes and colors.

In 2014, McCoy collaborated with technologist Anil Dash to create Quantum during Rhizome’s hackathon. The duo also developed an early version of blockchain technology to establish the provenance of digital artwork. Their plan was “to offer artists a way to support and protect their creations,” Anil Dash wrote in The Atlantic. “Exhausted and a little loopy, we gave our creation an ironic name: monetized graphics.”

“Back in 2014 when I was putting these ideas of art and blockchains together almost no one understood what I was talking about,” Kevin McCoy told Artnet News. “But I knew it was a really important and transformative idea. It’s gratifying to see the wider world come around to the same realization.”

Anna Ridler, The Shell Record, 2021. Image from Sotheby’s.
Anna Ridler, The Shell Record, 2021. Image from Sotheby’s.

The Shell Record, 2021 by Anna Ridler

British artist and researcher Anna Ridler will be represented in Natively Digital with her latest work, The Shell Record. The piece features shifting images of seashells using generative art technology. Her work references the history of barter in one of its earliest currencies— shells. For The Shell Record, the artist gathered specimens from the foreshore of the River Thames during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Winner of the DARE Art Prize 2018 – 2019, Ridler has long employed artificial intelligence (AI) and generative art in her work. She often explores the hysteria and bubbles around digital assets.

Ridler takes a dig at the 18th and 19th-century shell mania among European collectors with her present work. Shell collection has been a popular hobby since prehistoric times. However, it reached a climax in England during the late 18th and mid-19th centuries.

With the burgeoning colonial trade and exploration, seashells from far-off lands became prized possessions among Europeans. Soon, shell auctions became a common occurrence. As the demand exceeded supply, prices for specimens skyrocketed. “As such, they seem to be an appropriate subject matter for working with for an NFT, where value is given by those who agree upon it,” says Ridler.

Larva Labs, CryptoPunk #7523, 2017. Image from Sotheby’s.
Larva Labs, CryptoPunk #7523, 2017. Image from Sotheby’s.

CryptoPunk #7523, 2017 by Larva Labs

Coming to the Natively Digital sale as a standalone lot is a work owned by Sillytuna, a pseudonymous NFT collector. CryptoPunk #7523, also known as “Covid Alien,” is a 24×24 pixel illustration of a masked alien.

Generated in 2017 by New York-based software company Larva Labs, CryptoPunks is a collection of 10,000 unique 8-bit-style pixel art images. Among these are nine unique light-blue-skinned alien Punks wearing different combinations of accessories. #7523 is one of the nine ‘alien’ punks and the only one with a mask.

“Hall and Watkinson’s studio, Larva Labs, unknowingly accessorized this Alien Punk with what would become the ubiquitous symbol of the COVID-19 age,” says the lot essay. “It is a symbolism that one cannot now unsee.”

Earlier in May, Christie’s sold nine CryptoPunks for a whopping $17,000,000. Beyond the auction world, CryptoPunks are fetching high sums. Another alien CryptoPunk, #3100, sold for 4,200 ETH (over $10,000,000) on May 28th, 2021.

Among the other disclosed lots of the upcoming Sotheby’s event are a single Pak NFT, Mad Dog Jones’ Visor, and Don Diablo’s Infinite Future.

Sotheby’s Natively Digital: A Curated NFT Sale will take place online from June 3rd, 2021, at 10:00 AM EDT through June 10th, 2021. Part of the proceeds from the sale will go to the Sevens Foundation to support young digital artists. Visit Sotheby’s for more information and to register to bid. 

Want to learn about the highs and lows of NFTs this April? Read Auction Daily’s recent coverage.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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