In brief

  • Sotheby's auction house is following Christie's in selling a non-fungible token (NFT) digital artwork.
  • The work, by anonymous artist Pak, will sell at Sotheby's next month.

Sotheby’s has become the latest auction house to jump into the NFT space, with its announcement that it will be hosting work by the anonymous artist Pak next month. 

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, have taken the world by storm in recent weeks, giving artists the opportunity to tokenize their work by making it cryptographically unique on the Ethereum blockchain. Christie’s sold an NFT by crypto artist Beeple for $69.3 million just last week—making it the third most expensive piece of art by a living artist sold at auction. 

“There’s a lot here that’s really exciting and we think has staying power,” Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart told CNBC Squawk Box this morning. 

Top of the NFT Pak

In December, Pak became the first crypto artist to earn more than $1 million for their work. Since then, the crypto art market has exploded, with total sales now amounting to more than $350 million, according to data from crypto art.io

Pak may have been usurped by Beeple and others in recent months, but the Sotheby’s auction will give the artist their biggest showcase to date. 

“This is no surprise as I designed my way, but then again I am excited to see the reception,” Pak told Decrypt via Twitter today. “That is the mystery partly out of my control." 

Pak declined to offer more details on the artworks to be auctioned. "It’s more exciting when everyone is excited about it, without knowing much, and when they learn it will be because this particular drop is different," they explained. 

At least part of the artist’s appeal is down to the mystery which surrounds them, and the speculation that they may not even be a real person but a collective or even an AI constructed by a team of engineers.

Stewart said that the fact that the artist wanted to remain anonymous was nothing new in the art world. “This is an artist who has been producing digital art for decades, and we’re very excited to bring their work to market,” he added. 

In an interview with Medium publication Control, Pak revealed that they had been creating digital art for over 25 years, and have worked with hundreds of major brands and studios, but that the artist is relatively new to crypto art. 

The mysterious artist is founder, and lead designer of the internationally acclaimed Undream studio and the AI-curator Archillect, which collects and shares stimulating visions with two million followers on Twitter.

The Pak auction

Stewart revealed in the CNBC interview that the Sotheby’s sale will feature a “one-of-one” Pak work of art. But also on offer are “open editions in the NFT world, where many people can buy tokens for the same work.” He promised more surprises over the coming weeks. 

The auction house’s interest in the artist’s work goes back to earlier this year when it expressed interest in a Pak NFT called “The Gift,” which its anonymous creator later gifted to Sotheby’s, as “they were the first,” according to Pak. 

Another “Gift” NFT was given to the person who solved a puzzle Pak posted, and the final one was given to the person who “commented creatively about the whole drop. The winner was picked by the puzzle solver,” explained Pak. 

According to The Art Newspaper, last January, Max Moore, Sotheby’s co-head of the Contemporary Art Day Sale in New York, bought a Pak NFT but did not reveal the fate of the work. The auction house has not yet responded to a request for more information about the work being auctioned. 

But one thing that’s almost certain is that Sotheby’s NFT auction is unlikely to be its last. “I do think this is something that you’ll see more frequently,” Stewart told CNBC. A new audience and a new aesthetic were always welcome in the art world, he added. 

This “really has the potential to bypass a lot of the traditional gatekeepers and vetting processes of the physical world” he said—which is bullish news for the fledgling industry.