Sotheby’s sold a masked CryptoPunk known as Covid Alien for a hammer price of US$10 million in a live Thursday morning auction, and subsequently announced a separate online sale of five CryptoPunks that include physical prints of the 24 by 24, 8-bit-style pixel images of these pioneering nonfungible tokens (NFTs).
Covid Alien (CryptoPunk #7523)—which gets its nickname from the medical mask it wears—was sold by a long-time digital art advocate and collector known as SillyTuna. The single-lot was sold in about four minutes, with bidding opening at US$1.5 million and then jumping from US$1.8 million to the final sale, which is US$11.75 million, including fees.
The NFT is one of only nine alien punks (so-called because of their blue skin) and one of 175 with a mask, according to Sotheby’s. There are 10,000 unique CryptoPunks in all, pixelated characters that were randomly generated through algorithms created in June 2017 by software developers Matt Hall and John Watkinson and minted on the Ethereum blockchain.
In a video on Sotheby’s online catalogue, Sillytuna, who has used the Covid Alien avatar on social media, said he’s “looked after the Covid Alien with the utmost respect because not only is it a high-end artwork, it’s also an identity.”
Sillytuna said in a message that he will be trading that identity—which he bought earlier this year “to do something interesting” for the NFT space—for CryptoPunk #9839. His new avatar is one of 332 punks that wears virtual reality glasses. “It’s a human copy of the alien except [VR] instead of mask to signify a look to the future,” he said.
CryptoPunks are considered by some to be the original NFTs as their creation inspired the Ethereum network standard known as ERC-721, which “powers most digital art and collectibles,” according to Larva Labs, Hall and Watkinson’s company. The technology confers proof of ownership to the one-of-a-kind image.
On May 11, Christie’s sold a set of nine CryptoPunks
owned by Hall and Watkinson for US$17 million, including fees, at an evening auction. According to Larva Labs, the lowest priced punk available on their marketplace is 13.99 ETH (US$36,126) and the total value of all punk sales since they were created is US$482.86 million.
In a quick followup to this single-work online sale, Sotheby’s announced it would launch the first auction to also include physical prints of the CryptoPunks, each signed by Watkinson. The online sale runs from June 24 to July 1.
The five punks to be sold were consigned on behalf of the owners to art adviser and curator Georg Bak, who was the first to exhibit the CryptoPunks’ prints in October 2018. “Perfect and Priceless: Value Systems on the Blockchain,” an exhibition of digital art at Kate Vass Galerie in Zurich, Switzerland that Bak says included very early blockchain art works from several noted artists, including Ai Wei Wei, featured nine CryptoPunk prints.
The prints came about, Bak says, after he approached Hall and Watkinson about the exhibition and they discussed how to show them. “They came up with this amazing idea of conceptual art work” by creating ‘phygital’ artworks—part physical, part digital, he recalls.
Hall and Watkinson transferred punks from their own collection to separate wallets, made a unique signed and numbered “one of one” print of each, Bak says. They then attached a private mnemonic code conferring ownership of the Ethereum-based NFT to each print within a wax-sealed envelope, destroying the codes afterward to ensure the only copy was tucked inside, he says.
Bak likens the project to the French-American artist Marcel DuChamp’s Hidden Noise, in which an object was placed inside a ball of string fixed between two brass plates by someone other than the artist. “You could hear something inside, but you don’t know what it is or have access to it—you have to destroy it,” Bak says.
All the prints Bak exhibited in 2018 sold on the show’s opening night for about CHF5,000 each, in addition to three more that were not exhibited, Bak says. Two of this group will be among the five sold in the Sotheby’s sale, each carrying estimates varying from US$80,000 to US$180,000.
Because so many collectors were interested in the prints, Larva Labs decided to make another 12, but they deliberately limited the print run to 24, Bak says.
While the CryptoPunks were initially available to anyone with an Ethereum wallet for free, they have since become highly collectible. Prices for individual punks depend on their attributes, including various genders, skin colors, and accessories defining the 1970s London punk era, although there are also aliens, apes, and zombies. The accessories can include earrings, cigarettes, hot lipstick, and a “peak spike” hair style.
To Bak, the Larva Labs founders are “maybe even the most important artists alive,” because what they’ve done, through CryptoPunks and other projects, such the Meetbits (20,000 unique 3-D characters), “is a big revolution….they created something that was completely new.”
The five punks being sold are #6347, a female punk with red ‘crazy’ hair, green eyeshadow, black lipstick, and a cigarette; #872, a female punk with ‘wild blonde’ hair, ‘hot’ lipstick, and a vape; #2830, a male punk with a peak spike, classic shades, an earring, and a cigarette; #770, a male punk with red ‘crazy’ hair, regular shades, and a “luxurious” beard; and #1819, a male punk with a police cap, class shades, an earring and a “big” beard.
The physical prints will be on display in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries in London through the sale.
This story was updated to include the final price for the Covid Alien CryptoPunk, including fees.