In the Millions: The Record-Breaking NFT Artists of 2021

Due to Beeple's phenomenal success at the beginning of the year and technological revolutions brought on by the pandemic, 2021 marked the year NFTs and NFT art boomed. But, who were the top record-breaking NFT artists of the year?

8 February, 2022

According to luxury media brand Barnebys, digital artist Beeple is one of the ten most expensive living artists, after his now-famous work, ‘EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS’, sold for £50 million at Christie’s in March 2021. It broke numerous records, becoming ‘the most expensive digital artwork ever sold, the third highest price paid for a work by a living artist, the highest price for any lot in any online-only auction, the highest price for any winning bid placed online, and the highest total for any online-only auction’ (Barnebys). The sale also marked the first time that an auction house accepted payment using cryptocurrency, with Beeple’s piece bought by Indian entrepreneur Vignesh Sundaresan for 42,329 Ether. This kick-started a chain of auction houses offering crypto-settlements and eagerly seeking to take advantage of the flourishing NFT market. Due to this and other factors, 2021 marked the year NFTs and NFT art boomed. In this article, we look back on some of the NFT artists who broke records in the past year. 

We actually started the article by mentioning Beeple’s record-breaking success, which largely triggered NFT appetite in the traditional art market; however, it could be argued that anonymous artist Pak beats him when it comes to winning the title of ‘most expensive living artist’. Pak’s most recent offering, ‘The Merge’, was sold through the model of fractional ownership in 266,445 shares to almost 30,00 buyers for a total of $91.8 million (Artnet). With this sale total, he not only eclipses Beeple but also traditional auction-breaking Blue-Chip artists, including David Hockney and Jeff Koons. 

Following Beeple and Christie’s success, Phillips ventured into the NFT world with an offering by Michah ‘Mad Dog Jones’ Dowback, titled ‘Replicator’, which is a duplicative NFT representing a copy maker in an office. It is ‘duplicative’ in that it was designed to generate a new set of NFTs every 28 days leading to a total of 180-220 unique NFTs and adding lots of resale value. Sold for $4.1 million, it has made Dowback Canada’s most expensive living artist. 

Another big name in the NFT world is recognised cryptoart pioneer XCOPY, who has been minting his art on SuperRare since its launch in 2018. In November 2021, his four-year-old work, ‘A Coin for the Ferryman’, sold on the platform for $6 million. A user had originally purchased it not long after its creation for only 0.5 ETH, which amounted to around $139 back then, according to CryptoBriefing. Another one of his works, ‘Right-click and Save As Guy’, sold for $6.57 million just a month later. The title itself plays on one of the main criticisms against NFT art, which is that you can simply right-click and save it on your computer, rather than paying to own it on the blockchain, giving proper recognition and financial reward to the artist who created it. Bought by NFT kingpin Cozomo de’ Medici, who was later revealed to be rapper Snoop Dogg, it marked a total increase in the value of the artwork by over 3,500%.

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the world-renowned Larva Labs with CryptoPunks. With only 88 zombie Cryptopunks in existence, the whole NFT community takes notice when one is traded. When NFT collector Keyboard Monkey organised a single day 2x Punk flip, Punk #8857 sold for just over $6.6 million. However, Cryptopunk #7523k, known as the ‘Covid Alien’ due to its facemask, represented the largest ever sale of a CryptoPunk, selling for over $11.7 million at Sotheby’s Natively Digital auction in June 2021. 

Finally, it is worth coming back to Beeple, who made several million-dollar sales over the course of the year, ending with the sale of ‘Human One’, which is also the first ever physical sculpture created by the artist. Both the NFT and the physical sculpture went up for auction as a single lot at Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale. Many were sceptical of the success of such a hybrid sale, but Beeple, once again, proved them wrong, amassing a total of over £28.9 million. 

Overall, NFTs continue to represent the epitome of digital success and a revolutionary platform for alternative investments. The real beauty of the NFT market is that it is constantly evolving. We predict that 2022 will not only bring further exciting developments, such as through the metaverse, but also continue to capture interest with innovative models such as fractional ownership, following the great success of Pak’s ‘The Merge’. 

Are you interested in collecting NFT art or becoming a fractional owner of a high-value artwork through NFT Art Shares? We can help! Shop our NFT Art portfolio here

Sources:

Artprice, ‘The 3 most expensive Contemporary artists of the year so far’, Jul 2021, https://www.artprice.com/artmarketinsight/the-3-most-expensive-contemporary-artists-of-the-year-so-far

Barnebys, ‘The 10 Most Expensive Living Artists’, Mar 2021, https://www.barnebys.co.uk/blog/the-most-expensive-living-artists

Langston Thomas, The 10 Biggest NFT Sales of 2021, nftnow, Dec 2021, https://nftnow.com/lists/top-10-nft-sales-2021/

Sarah Cascone, “The 10 Most Expensive NFT Artworks of 2021, From Beeple’s $69 Million ‘Everydays’ to XCOPY’s $3.8 Million Portrait of ‘Some Asshole’”, Artnet, Dec 2021, https://news.artnet.com/market/most-expensive-nft-art-yearend-2052822

Aurelia Clavien

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