The artwork sold $69.3 million is a composite of 5,000 seperate drawings.
An anoymously run Singapore-based crypto fund, Metapurse, was the winner of Thursday’s record-breaking auction of a digital composite by the artist known as Beeple at Christie’s on Thursday. The $69.3 million sale shook both the art world and the crypto world, the purchase marking the largest amount ever paid for a nonfungible token, or NFT, and making Beeple one of the most valuable living artists.
“This particular piece is invaluable,” says the pseudonymous Twobadour, a co-manager of the Metapurse fund. “We believe it’s the most important piece of this generation.”
“Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” by Beeple is a massive JPEG, a collection of 5,000 images Beeple created over a decade-plus. It was sold in a two-week online auction that became a closely watched event, several million people flooding onto Christie’s site to watch its finale. It is the latest height in a rising mania for NFTs, a new way for digital media to be bought and sold over the internet. And for 24 hours or so, the identity of the person willing to pay nearly $70 million for the piece—more than has ever been spent on artists like Frida Kahlo or Salvador Dalí—was a mystery.
“We are pleased to have brought together two distinct collecting communities—the traditional and the digital—at exactly the right moment for digital artists, for blockchain technology, and for cryptocurrency,” Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said in a statement. “The possibilities for what comes next in this field are inspiring and we look forward to more collaborative innovations in the near future.”
So what is Metapurse? The fund was founded last year by another pseudonymous investor, Metakovan, a longtime crypto investor who runs the fund alongside Twobadour.
On Thursday, the pair worked together in separate locations in Singapore to secure the artwork. They didn’t begin bidding until the final five minutes, around when the number of buyers doubled and the artwork’s price lept from less than $20 million to over $60 million. The auction’s duration was extended several times as new bids entered, angering at least one other interested buyer, Justin Sun, founder of the Tron cryptocurrency. Sun took to Twitter Thursday night to criticize Christie’s and call for the auction house to change its rules in the future and give potential buyers more time during extended bidding.
In the end, Twobadour and Metakovan emerged as the victors. “We believe it’s a $1 billion dollar piece eventually,” says Twobadour, a suggestion that can sound a trifle farfetched. A billion dollars would be more than double the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction: the $450.3 million spent on Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” in 2017. “So, in essence, I think we got it for a steal.”
This wasn’t the first time Metapurse had bid on Beeple’s work. Twobadour and Metakovan bought 100 pieces of his art during a December sale and have since bundled them with an additional cryptoasset—parcels of virtual land called Cryptovoxels—and sold the combination as their own token. The duo have built up a substantial collection of NFTs, which Twobadour claims was conservatively worth $200 million before the Beeple purchase and funded entirely by Metakovan.
As the names Metakovan and Metapurse suggest, the investors are keen believers in a techno-concept known as the metaverse. Put most simply, the metaverse is the idea that we will increasingly live in a increasingly realistic digital realm, like the worlds from The Matrix and Ready Player One. Some time in the future, Metakovan and Twobadour believe they will be able to build an expansive virtual museum displaying many of the NFTs they’ve accumulated.
They plan to do something like that straight away to display “5,000 Days,” “We want to build a fitting monument to it,” Twobadour says. “An immersive experience, which you can access in your browser or in a VR headset wherever you are in the world.”
That’s not happening tomorrow, he admits. “For now, [we’re] just basking in the glory of being able to make history like we did.”
I’m a senior editor at Forbes, where I cover social media, creators and internet culture. In the past, I’ve edited across Forbes magazine and Forbes.com.