While the art market is still subject to stringent pandemic regulations, it did see a resurgence in 2021. Sales and auction prices hit an all-time high, with the frenzy around the still-novel NFTs growing significantly. During the year, more and more platforms were launched to sell NFTs, and traditional auction and art houses added them to their rosters. These art items sold for some of the highest prices in recent history. Let’s review the 10 Most Expensive NFTs that were sold in 2021.
10. Edward Snowden, Stay Free ($5.4 million)
Edward Snowden rose to prominence in 2013 when he released classified NSA documents exposing a mass surveillance program that the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit termed illegal. An image of the now-exiled whistleblower created from court decision pages was turned into Stay Free – an NFT that sold for $5.4 million in April 2021. Commenting on the sale, Snowden said, “Emerging applications of cryptography can play an important role in supporting our rights.” The funds raised from the sale of Stay Free will go to the San Francisco–based Freedom of the Press Foundation.
9. Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection ($5.93 million)
The Ross Ulbricht Genesis Collection auction was launched during Art Basel Miami by SuperRare in December 2021. The collection consists of original animation, artwork, and writings by Ulbricht combined through Kanon’s KSPEC protocol to create one NFT. Founder of Silk Road Market, Ross Ulbricht, is a former market operator on the darknet that received a life imprisonment sentence in 2013. He was found guilty of charges like conspiracy to commit computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic narcotics through the internet, and conspiracy to launder money. The NFT sold for $5.93 million.
8. A Coin for the Ferryman ($6 million)
A Coin for the Ferryman is an XCOPY-minted NFT that was created in 2018 and is among the first pieces by the artist. Crypto art pioneer XCOPY is known for his pieces, which feature distorted and disturbed visual loops that explore heavy topics like dystopia, apathy, and death. Some of his most iconic pieces include Hello Admin PM Me, You’re Wasting Your Life, and This is Clearly Money Laundering. In November 2021, A Coin for the Ferryman fetched $6 million on SuperRare.
7. Beeple, Ocean Front ($6 Million)
Beeple, formally Mike Winkelmann, is an NFT artist and graphic designer who rose to prominence when one of his pieces sold for a whopping $69 million in 2021. Ocean Front, another of his pieces, sold for $6 million in March the same year, making him one of the most accomplished NFT artists on the market. The piece uses powerful imagery to comment on climate change and is part of the Everyday series. Depicting a tree growing on top of garbage, shipping containers, and trailers, Ocean Front is captioned, ‘Together we can solve this.’ Funds from this sale were directed to the non-profit The Open Earth Foundation.
6. Beeple, Crossroads ($6 Million)
Crossroads by Beeple sold for $6.6 million on Nifty Gateway in February. Beeple created two versions of this piece in response to the 2020 presidential election, one showing Donald Trump defeated and another showing him victorious. It contains a digital signature and encrypted video file that cannot be duplicated.
5. XCOPY, Right-Click, and Save As Guy ($6.57 million)
Right-click and Save As Guy, another XCOPY piece, sold on SuperRare in December 2021 for $6.57 million. The buyer of this pointed piece was Snoop Dogg, or Cozomo de’ Medici, as he is known in the digital world. Drawing from a common meme phrase, this NFT is aimed at people who don’t believe in the viability and value of digital art.
4. Beeple, HUMAN ONE ($28.9 Million)
HUMAN ONE by people is unlike regular NFTs because, according to Christie’s, it features physical and digital components. The hybrid piece delivers a singular experience by using kinetics and video to present artwork that changes over time. Considered a continuation of the EVERYDAY series, HUMAN ONE will constantly evolve, with Beeple maintaining creative control and remote access to the piece. It sold for $28.9 million on a Christie’s auction.
3. CryptoPunks ($30 Million)
CryptoPunks are among the first NFT examples offered on Ethereum. Initially, there were over 10,000 characters, which were offered free to collectors with an Ethereum wallet. Today, you can only obtain them through marketplace. Four CryptoPunks sold for more than $30 million last year. They include CryptoPunk 7523 ($11.75 million), CryptoPunk 4156 ($10.35 million), CryptoPunk 7804 ($7.56 million), and CryptoPunk 3100 ($7.51 million).
2. Beeple, Everydays—The First 5000 Days ($69.3 Million)
Another piece by Beeple, Everydays – The First 5000 Days, inspired a lot of controversy and interest in the NFT market. Christie’s sold the artwork in March for a groundbreaking $69.3 million. Overall this was the third-highest price at an auction for a living artist. The piece is the result of a daily 5000-day project by Beeple that was inspired by Tom Judd. It contains numerous images, including pictures of Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos. Some of the images were criticized as depicting homophobic, misogynistic, and racial stereotypes as noted in an opinion piece on Art Net.
1. Pak, The Merge ($91.8 Million)
Number one on our list is The Merge, an NFT piece by the anonymous NFT artist, Pak. 250,000 NFTs of the piece were sold on Nifty Gateway in December for an astonishing $91.8 million. Essentially, The Merge is an open project combining several mass tokens that are programmed to join with others in a buyer’s wallet. Buyers that collect more mass end up with a large final mass and might even qualify for a bonus mass. Overall, the project was bought by 26,000 collectors, with the largest holder receiving another piece called Alpha Mass.
Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, are gaining traction in the art collection and investment market. Some of the prices on the Most Expensive NFTs are insane, even as some people continue to question the viability of digital art. As you can see, 2021 was a good year for NFTs, and digital jpegs garnered millions in sales. Some of these pieces are not just the most expensive NFTs but some of the priciest art pieces sold. We can only wait and see what 2022 has to offer NFT artists and collectors.