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Five More CryptoPunk NFTs Are Going on Sale at Sotheby’s – but What Actually Are They?

After this week’s $11.8 million sale, an explanation of one of the foundational Crypto Art movements.

Among the highlights of Sotheby’s recent crypto-art sale, Natively Digital, was the news that a CryptoPunk NFT had sold for $11.8 million. It’s a record sale for the artist, a sign of the strength of the crypto-art movement, and a timely rebuttal to recent reports that the NFT bubble has burst.

Now, Sotheby’s has announced the upcoming sale of five more CryptoPunks in an upcoming sale, Punks on Paper, which opens June 24. It’s likely that each of them will reach similarly staggering prices. So HYPEBEAST spoke to Sotheby’s to better understand the history of the works, and the significance of their place in the market.

The CryptoPunks were first released in 2017 by the creative technology studio Larva Labs, founded by artists Matt Hall and John Watkinson. As one of the earliest NFT projects –started long before the current ‘gold rush’ – the duo used an algorithm to create 10,000 randomly generated 24×24, 8-bit-style pixel portraits, each with a different combination of features. These portaits, which were dubbed the “CryptoPunks”, were released for free, aside from a small transaction fee.

Since then, they’ve become hotly demanded collector’s items, as the Punks with the rarest combinations of features have reached staggering sales prices. In essence, they’re the art-world equivalent of Pokémon cards.

“Each one is valued by the scarcity of the character,” explains Michael Bouhanna, Sotheby’s contemporary art specialist. Groupings of characters with particularly rare features have been given names to denote them, and the rarest of all is the ‘Alien’ group. “There are only nine of them”, says Bouhanna. “So they’re worth between $10-15 million each.”

Aside from their scarcity and highly collectible nature, their value also derives from their significance as a piece of art history. “They really changed the generic definition of art,” says Bouhanna.

Georg Bak, who consigned the works in the upcoming Sotheby’s show, also points to their early role in using the NFT model. Though the CryptoPunks weren’t the first NFT ever minted (that distinction belongs to Kevin McCoy’s ‘Quantum’), they were “the foundation of what we call an NFT today,” said Bak.

He’s quick, too, to dispel the notion that the NFT movement could crash. “We certainly had an overheated few months that market,” he says, “but the NFT market is really good. We’re only just at the beginning.”

Bouhanna agrees. “Even when there’s a bubble in the market, investors will look for safe investments. And the CryptoPunks are one of those iconic projects. It’s really seen as a long-term, safe investment.”

What makes the upcoming sale more unique is that, for the first time, the five ‘Punks’ will be accompanied by a certified print signed by co-creator John Watkinson. “It’s the ultimate mix between digital and physical artworks,” says Bak.

Sotheby’s CryptoPunk sale runs from June 24 – July 1. For more information check out the Sotheby’s website.

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