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Very Wealthy Artist: 'Sweet Baby Jesus, This Is Ridiculous'

Mike Winklemann, aka Beeple, has stunned the art world with his $70M digital sale
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2021 8:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Earlier this month, an artist named Mike Winklemann—aka Beeple—entered the upper echelons of the art world by selling a digital work for nearly $70 million at Christie's. So who is Winklemann? On the surface, a nondescript 39-year-old living in a nondescript home in Charleston, South Carolina, with his wife and two kids, writes Kyle Chayka in the New Yorker. (Except he now has an armed guard.) Winklemann sold what's known as a non-fungible token, a string of code certifying the authenticity of the work in question, in this case a digital collage. But if you think Winklemann is an expert on NFTs, know that he first heard about them only last year, then asked fellow artists making modest profits how they worked. "I'm more popular than all of these people, and if they’re making this much then I would probably make a f---ing s---load of money," Winkelmann remembers thinking (Chayka notes nearly 2 million people were following the Beeple Instagram account at the time). "Oh sweet baby Jesus, this is ridiculous."

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He was right. "Boom, fifty-three million dollars in my account. Like, what the f---," he says of receiving his payment. Winklemann had gained renown for his digital creations before this sale, and the story tracks his history—just don't expect him to deliver a treatise on old-school art. "I'm going to be honest, when you say, 'Abstract Expressionism,' literally, I have no idea what the hell that is.” The piece notes that one critic—Jason Farago in the New York Times—faults Winklemann's big-selling collage for its "violent erasure of human values" and "puerile amusements." (Farago is a former Newser writer.) The New Yorker story also explores the burgeoning world of NFT art, fueled by cryptocurrency millionaires with money to burn, and how it's forcing the traditional art world to ask big questions, including, "Should dealers adjust their aesthetic standards and court the flood of cryptocurrency wealth?" (Read Chayka's full story.)

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