Apr 23, 2024

Christie’s Continues to Shape the Future of Art with Bitcoin Inscriptions Auction

Christie’s, the renowned auction house with a history that predates the founding of the United States, is once again at the forefront of innovation in the art world. After its groundbreaking $69 million sale of Beeple’s “Everydays” collage in 2021, Christie’s has been steadily navigating the realm of cryptocurrency, digital art and NFTs.

Now, with Bitcoin-based inscriptions, Christie’s is breaking new ground with its inaugural “Ordinal Maxi Biz (OMB)” auction.

Bitcoin Inscriptions vs. NFTs

In recent years, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have seen a surge in popularity, eliciting a range of reactions from the art community. Initially met with skepticism due to concerns about speculation and environmental impact, Ethereum’s transition to a more eco-friendly proof-of-stake mechanism in 2022 helped alleviate some of these concerns. However, while NFTs have found their place in the art market, there are limitations.

This is where Bitcoin-based inscriptions, enabled by Casey Rodarmor’s Ordinals Protocol, can be a real game-changer. These inscriptions offer artists a method to embed data directly onto the smallest unit of Bitcoin – the Satoshi – ensuring a degree of permanence and authenticity not seen with traditional NFTs. With this update, each Satoshi is assigned a serial number. These serial numbers, called ordinal inscriptions or simply ordinals, can then be used to store information through “inscribing”.

Unlike NFTs, which often serve as digital signatures for data stored elsewhere, inscriptions on Bitcoin are on-chain, making them truly ownable and secure. This update aims to satisfy the increasing demand for NFT on the network while guaranteeing its security. While this update is welcomed by most, some users have raised the criticism that this could lead to network congestion.

At the Forefront of Digital Art Auctions

To understand the significance of Christie’s move into Bitcoin inscriptions, we must first look back at their first NFT auction in March 2021. Christie’s made history by selling Mike Winkelmann’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” for a record-breaking $69 million. This marked the first purely digital artwork sold by an established auction house, bringing blockchain technology into the world of fine art.

The winning bidder of “Everydays” received a unique nonfungible token (NFT), a string of code that represents ownership of the digital artwork. This NFT, encrypted with the artist’s unforgeable signature, was uniquely identified on the blockchain, providing a new form of provenance and ownership in the digital age.

Christie’s Expands with Bitcoin Inscriptions

Building on the success of their NFT auction, Christie’s has expanded further into the digital art realm. The “Ordinal Maxi Biz (OMB)” auction marks Christie’s first foray into Bitcoin inscriptions, curated by ZK Shark, Tony Tafuro, and berkinbags. These Bitcoin-based tokens offer artists a new canvas to inscribe their works directly onto the blockchain, rather than simply attach their digital signature for authenticity and provenance purposes.

Nicole Sales Giles, Christie’s Director of Digital Art Sales, expressed optimism about the evolving market landscape, noting the increasing interest in digital art since the NFT boom in 2021. Giles, who played a pivotal role in Beeple’s NFT auction, emphasized Christie’s commitment to exploring new frontiers in the art world.

A New Step in Bitcoin’s Evolution

As the art world continues to intersect with digital innovation, the auction of Bitcoin inscriptions signifies a new chapter in the industry. While some debate the impact of Ordinals on Bitcoin’s primary function as a monetary network, it’s evident that inscriptions offer a unique value proposition. They provide artists with a method to securely inscribe their works on-chain, ensuring authenticity and permanence.

The “Ordinal Maxi Biz (OMB)” auction lots, featuring starting bids of $100, are a callback to the Beeple auction’s humble beginnings. Christie’s acknowledges that inscriptions won’t fully replace existing NFT standards like ERC-721, but they represent a significant technological advancement.

The Future of Digital Art

Christie’s engagement with Bitcoin inscriptions and the art community’s growing embrace of this technology highlight a broader cultural curiosity about the evolving narrative of digital art.
As artists continue to explore new mediums and technologies, long-standing auction houses like Christie’s will remain a pioneering force in driving adoption, shaping the future of art and ownership in the digital age.

The auction of “Ordinal Maxi Biz (OMB)” is not just about the sale of digital artworks; it’s about the exploration of new possibilities at the intersection of art and technology, and the broader adoption of decentralized ledgers in all industries. As Sales Giles aptly puts it, “We are interested in the artistic historical story around these collections. It’s really interesting to us to see the zeitgeist form around this community.”

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