In early August, someone with the user name “boothy” paid $1.5 million for a digital cartoon image of a monkey with golden fur shooting red laser beams from its eyes. While picture No. 3749 in the Bored Ape Yacht Club series could have been copied for free, this particular digital image was an original release, its one-off status recorded on a public, digital ledger (or blockchain) as an NFT (non-fungible or “non-exchangeable” token).
In purchasing the image’s NFT, the buyer was securing his or her proof of their ownership of the image. NFTs, most commonly associated with digital art, are becoming colossally lucrative. Often used as Twitter avatars – Mike Tyson’s Cool Cat, for instance – they have become online symbols of status and wealth. Bored Ape No. 3749 made its original seller a 450 per cent profit in a few weeks, while trading across the whole Ape collection has hit more than $US235 million. Meanwhile, sales of the NBA’s Top Shot collection, which features players’ iconic moments as GIFs, reached $950 million in less than a year.
As we segue unsteadily into COVID-endemic status, Dan Khomenko, chief executive of Australian-based marketplace NFT Stars, is planning the country’s first NFT exhibition, SIDUS, in Melbourne. “NFTs are opening up millions of opportunities for artists from all domains,” he says. This is good news for the city’s anonymous street artist Lushsux, dubbed “Australia’s answer to Banksy”, who shot to controversial fame in 2016 with a Footscray mural of a big-breasted Hillary Clinton wearing a Borat-style mankini.
According to a crypto-art sales website, he has already earned about $US3 million from NFT sales of his graffiti-style caricatures and internet memes, beginning in May 2020. “Digital assets are finally here,” he tells Good Weekend, “and NFTs are the framework that makes them legitimate.”
Khomenko says the trend right now is for projects with “consumer value”. The first tranche of his company’s NFT Heroes collection – 6000 characters destined for a future online gaming world – sold out in minutes. Their price? About $220 a pop.
As with any kind of purchase, though, caveat emptor applies. One hacker planted a link on Banksy’s website, purportedly selling the artist’s first-ever NFT, and rinsing the hapless buyer of $US336,000. The money was eventually returned, minus a $US5000 “handling fee”.