Not long after Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, received his $53 million in ether (ETH) for selling a non-fungible token (NFT) through Christie’s (after fees), he reportedly converted the cryptocurrency into fiat. What was seen as a vote of confidence for this new technological medium – it was the third-largest art sale ever, right behind Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” and David Hockney’s “Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures)” – might now be seen as a betrayal.
He quite literally sold out.
Beeple told The New Yorker on Monday, “I’m not remotely a crypto-purist. I was making digital art long before any of this [nonsense], and if all this ... NFT stuff went away tomorrow I would still be making digital art.”
I was curious what other artists have done with their newfound fortunes made during the explosion of interest in NFTs. As competitive as any other art scene, NFT artists often face the added pressure of “crypto tribalism.” They don’t call it a blockchain for nothing.
Chris Torres, who sold several tokenized versions of the classic Nyan Cat meme for upwards of 400 ETH, said he was “surprised” to learn that Beeple had cashed out. Torres said he took out a small portion of his proceeds to pay for home repairs – including “a brand new fence because my current one is falling apart” – and other expenses. Some went to buy other people’s NFTs, like Paul Robertson’s, whose work has been featured on Cartoon Network.
The only thing Torres has splurged on was an electric bicycle, he said over email. The rest is staying in cold storage.
New York City-based artist Olive Allen has been making and selling NFTs since 2019. While her returns haven’t been staggering, her steadily built portfolio is enough “to exist” in New York City. She says she mostly hodls “with the exception of the money I need to cover my monthly expenses, stuff that enhances my art practice (like new graphic card), medical bills & etc.”
Then there’s Beeple’s contemporary, Ryder Ripps, who came to NFTs after a long career in digital art. He said he keeps about half his profits in ETH.
I reached out to Beeple to see what he’s done with the proceeds from earlier NFT sales but haven't heard back. To be sure, Beeple has long been skeptical of the current moment. He said on CoinDesk TV the morning after the historic sale that NFTs were a bubble. And he has long been thinking about how to bring his digital works into the physical world.
Beeple is anything but a turncoat, in fact he’s been remarkably consistent. For him, NFTs are a general purpose technology whose successful adoption does not hinge on the success or actions of any one artist.
It’s a mentality I think would be good for the rest of the crypto industry to adopt. Instead of warring over which projects or protocols will reign supreme, it might be better to let the technology serve you.
Comparing NFTs to the early web, Beeple told Fox News: "There was a bubble. And the bubble burst. And it wiped out a lot of crap – but it didn’t wipe out the Internet. And so the technology itself is strong enough where I think it’s going to outlive that.”
Whatever outlives NFT mania in 2021 will only be worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.