On May 12, a crowd gathered in a former factory space in Queens for what was billed as the first-ever live auction of cryptocurrency-themed art.
There were 10 works auctioned, but the big draw of the night was undoubtedly “Celestial Cyber Dimension,” an art piece with analog and digital components, which housed a CryptoKitty.
It was created by the art director of CryptoKitties, Guilherme Twardowski, who is known professionally as Guile Gaspar. His creation had been displayed at Christie’s Auction House near a Basquiat earlier in the week.
A Christie’s auctioneer was there to rally the attendees, many of whom were in town for a blockchain summit. Bidders could pay for the art in cryptocurrency or the American dollar; proceeds went to charity.
If you’re wondering what a CryptoKitty is, and what kind of art it inspires, you’re not alone.
Essentially, CryptoKitties are digital Beanie Babies — collectible items that can be bought, sold, collected and traded with the cryptocurrency ether (which is generated by the Ethereum blockchain). Their value depends on how much people are willing to pay, but some command six figures.
They are part of a digital game of sorts: Players (i.e., Ethereum ownersand enthusiasts) can purchase digital felines with certain attributes — or “cattributes,” as they would call them — like eye color, body size or pedigree.
They can then “breed” their digital pets with those of other players on the network, at an agreed-upon rate, to generate more cats. There’s no guarantee to how the algorithmically produced kittens will appear. And because they are linked to the Ethereum blockchain, each new cat is assigned a generation. A limited number of highly desirable early-generation kitties commands the highest sales prices and “stud fees.”
All of this probably sounds highly abstract. So, for what it’s worth, the CryptoKitties themselves are awfully cute.
Mr. Twardowski’s CryptoKitty art piece looked something like a giant computer chip. A pixelated image of a first-generation CryptoKitty was embedded in a physical structure — a hardware wallet assembled by the engineer Richard Moore — that contained an ERC-721 token. In non-crypto speak, that essentially means there were lines of computer code in the artwork that proved the origin and ownership of the CryptoKitty. (The digital cat itself is purple and goggle-eyed, and around its neck, it wears an attractive orb.)
Attendees were eager to see how high the price would go. As bids for this most coveted lot rose from $10,000 to quickly surpass the $100,000 mark, the crowd roared with adrenaline.
Mike Novogratz — a former hedge funder who had already acquired a print that read “HODL,” a misspelling of the word “hold,” for $8,000 — was willing to outbid everyone in the room for it. “Turn off the internet,” he joked, trying to shut out online bidders.
In the end, he was bested. A buyer outbid him with an offer online of $140,000.
The buyer, Igor Barinov, turned out to be physically present in the room, as well. There were a number of reasons he spent so much on his CryptoKitty, he said: A love of the game, the cat’s physical attributes, the real-life nature of the auction, and the fact that it was going to charity.
From his phone, he transferred $140,000 worth of ether and surreptitiously met the artists backstage to claim his prize.
Later, he reflected on his win over email: “It’s a cat number 127, which is a prime number and has some particular meaning for geeks like us.”
And who knows? Maybe Mr. Barinov got a bargain.
Mr. Novogratz, the former hedge funder who stopped bidding at $115,000, said, “In 10 years, I think it’s going to be worth millions.”