What on earth is an NFT? A primer on the art world’s latest bubble

Who would pay $200,000 for an MP4 of LeBron James dunking? Enter the gently irrational world of the NFT...

If the art market didn’t exist, you’d struggle to make it up. Too silly, your editor would say; people just don’t behave like that. Viewed from any sort of distance at all, the groaning, rickety artifice seems like one big, bizarre in-joke; a spaghetti junction of back-slapping contacts, racketeering gallerists and pretentious drop outs, post-rationalising meaning into an ironic photo collage where Linsday Lohan appears to be the Queen, only everyone is also a dog. It’s an avant garde theatre show, where lithe men in good suits at august establishments with expensive townhouses tell you that a really quite ugly and not very nice thing is actually really quite lovely and very brilliant indeed, and also $26.6 million. But thus far, at least, you could just about keep up. There was some logic to this dramatic universe, no matter how fantastical or twisted or self-reflexive. It was like Star Trek, or perhaps Game of Thrones. I get it, fine — you have fun. But I’ll leave you to it, if that’s okay. Too many dragons.

Now, however, the art market has finally jumped the shark. And it comes in the form of the NFT — A crypto-currency-and-digital-art conflagration that is raging out of control. Recently, an NFT piece called CROSSROAD by the artist Beeple (which featured a big, fat former president lying naked on a lawn) made history when it became the most expensive piece of digital art ever sold — $6.6 million, at the end of February, which seemed like a heck of a lot for something you could never actually hold in your hands. But this was small fry. Yesterday, on March 11th, a Beepl piece sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million. And when Christie’s is cashing in on a trend, you know something’s going down. But WTF is an NFT? Good question. Here’s some sort of answer.

The Beeple collage that sold for over $60 million at Christie’s this week

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