T wo years ago, the digital art world was an entirely different place. Reeling from unprecedented sales of digital tokens by previously unknown artists that rivaled the top players in contemporary art, the entire world was determined to make sense of what was going on. Sotheby’s Metaverse, which launched in October 2021, was the first of its kind: operated by a major auction house, the platform became a bridge between the traditional art auction model and a rapidly growing web3 audience.
This May saw a significant expansion of the platform’s industry-leading capabilities with the launch of specially curated selection of digital art and collectibles on secondary market – as well as a move to a fully on-chain system where peer-to-peer transactions will be executed on the Ethereum and Polygon blockchains.
In its first year, Sotheby’s Metaverse garnered over $120 million through a series of sales spanning the landscape of digital art. An exciting 2023 has seen Sotheby’s build off that foundation by embracing digital artists with initiatives equal to its object arts programs – including single-artist sales of digital innovators such as Vera Molnár and Martin Grasser, whose “Themes and Variations” realized 631 ETH ($1.2 million) when 100 percent of its works sold in under an hour. (The sale was also Sotheby’s first experiment with the Dutch auction format.) Additional curated sales established new records, such as the GRAILS auction, which became the most valuable live auction of digital art when it soared to $11 million. Other ventures, including collaborations with footballers and K-Pop stars, have seen the auction house foray into popular culture.
“Opening our secondary market to a carefully selected group of artists … emphasizes Sotheby’s commitment to the digital art community.”
Metaverse Expansion builds on Sotheby’s success with curated sales by featuring a hand-picked selection of artists and artworks – the first group includes Vera Molnár, Tyler Hobbs, XCOPY, IX Shells, Sarah Zucker, Refik Anadol, Sam Spratt, Claire Silver, Pindar van Arman, Sofia Crespo, Diana Sinclair, Osinachi, Hackatao and Sebastião Salgado. Their works are bolstered by critical research and contextualized within art history, which both provides a guiding hand to collectors and canonizes these works of digital art. Sotheby’s honors artist resale royalties through its smart contract, meaning artists can receive payment any time their work is resold. Additionally, all secondary-market sales accept Etherium.
In the rapidly changing environment of web3 – where markets and exchanges can be difficult to predict, records are constantly being broken and token trends come and go – one thing is certain: digital art is a novel development with a unique utility. The blockchain provides a new type of signature that allows artists to safeguard and better sell their work. It is critical that platforms and marketplaces evolve to meet this challenge, and Sotheby’s continues to innovate where web3 and contemporary art meet.
Sotheby’s Metaverse Expansion is only the latest development in the auction house’s mission to connect art and collectors. As Michael Bouhanna, Sotheby’s Vice President and Head of Digital Art, says: “Opening our secondary market to a carefully selected group of artists – many of whom have been at the forefront of the movement and brought digital art to worldwide attention – further emphasizes Sotheby’s commitment to the digital art community and to creating a space for discerning collectors.”
Banner: Sam Spratt, VII. Wormfood