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Crypto art just set a R1 billion record. SA’s first gallery auction starts this week.

NFT South Africa record

From Norman O’Flynn’s “Timekeeper” series

  • A piece of non-fungible token (NFT) art auctioned by Christie’s fetched $69.3 million (R1 billion) last week, making it the third-most expensive work sold by a living artist at auction.
  • This week, Worldart gallery will be the first gallery in South Africa to auction an NFT work.
  • The artwork for sale will be in the form of a GIF file, with moving elements added to a painting of local artist Norman O’Flynn acclaimed “Timekeeper” series.
  • The gallery is not expecting a R1 billion price.
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Following a series of record-breaking sales – the latest of which fetched $69.3 million, the equivalent of  R1 billion – a South African gallery is about to be the first to offer non-fungible token (NFT) art on auction.

More than 5.5 million NFT artworks have been sold online since 2015, but its recent explosion into the mainstream has coincided with the popularity of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. In the past week alone, almost 26,000 NFT artworks have been sold at auction, fetching an average price of $1,651 (R24,500) per piece.

NFT art ranges from video games to music, Gifs and Jpegs, like the “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” image which sold for around R1 billion on 11 March through Christie’s auction house.

See also | The buyer of a $69 million piece of crypto art says the work is ‘worth $1 billion’

Mike Winkelmann’s collage-style Jpeg now stands as third-most expensive work sold by a living artist at auction, according to Christie’s, and by far the highest-grossing digital artwork ever created.

What is a non-fungible token?

A non-fungible token (NFT) is a secure digital file which validates ownership within a blockchain system which represents an online ledger.

Any digital art – including images, video game items and music – can be packaged and sold as NFTs.

It’s impossible to forge an NFT, and it acts as an artist’s signature, confirms the identity and ownership of the underlying digital object.

“These NFTs represent ownership of something unique and that ownership is indisputable because it’s encoded as part of the blockchain,” says Charl Bezuidenhout, owner of Worldart gallery in Cape Town.

Worldart will this week launch SA’s first NFT gallery auction for work by local artist Norman O’Flynn, a moving image based on his painted series “Timekeeper”.

“Norman is a very entrepreneurial artist, and his art is connected a very contemporary interpretation of pop art whether it’s the use of graphic novels or commenting on society,” says Bezuidenhout.

O’Flynn’s NFT is still a work in progress and is likely to be completed by Wednesday, Bezuidenhout says.

Bezuidenhout has approached four different NFT marketplaces to facilitate the auction, including SuperRare, which is rated as the second-highest online auction platform by cumulative value of artworks sold, with 511 sales bringing in over R60 million in the past seven days.

See also | Crypto collectibles are trading in a huge market – here’s where you can browse and bid on them

And while Bezuidenhout is hoping for a bidding war which would raise the final sale price of O’Flynn’s work, he estimates that, based on prices fetched by physical paintings, the NFT could go for between R60,000 and R100,000 – a far cry from Winkelmann’s R1 billion.

“We’ll probably start at a very low price point [for starting bids] at around R2,000 and I really don’t know what to expect, whether it’s going to go up and up or if someone will get a bargain,” Bezuidenhout says of the experiment.

But Bezuidenhout explains that expectations need to be kept realistic and that Christies’ R1 billion sale – and similar high-profile auctions – need to be viewed within the context of the current market, which processes thousands of artworks every day.

“The numbers that are being thrown around, that’s not the norm,” says Bezuidenhout.

“There are thousands of pieces out there on those platforms and many of them don’t sell. The numbers are just hype… it is happening, but that’s not how it is.”

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