The digital collage by the American artist Beeple, also known as Mike Winkelmann, a pioneer of the exploding virtual art market, sold for a record $69.3 million, Christie's announced on March 11, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

New York: A digital collage by the American artist Beeple, a pioneer of the exploding virtual art market, sold for a record $69.3 million, Christie's announced Thursday.

"Everydays: The First 5,000 Days" is now the most expensive "non-fungible token" piece ever sold, a sign of longterm confidence in the burgeoning market that creates collectible digital assets by transforming virtual work into something ownable.

Beeple - an artist from Charleston, South Carolina, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann - is now among the top three most valuable living artists, Christie's said.

American artist Beeple, also known as Mike Winkelmann. Image Credit: AFP

"Everydays" is based on a long-term project: beginning on May 1, 2007, when he was still a bored web designer, he sought to create a work of art each day, without interruption, in order to progress in drawing and graphic design.

Now, 5,062 consecutive days later, "Everydays" brings together in digital form his first 5,000 pieces, beginning with a simple image of his Uncle Jim and ending on a detailed graphic portrait of characters from Donald Trump to Buzz Lightyear to Michael Jackson, depicted as dystopian muses around a child drawing.

Since 2007 Beeple has accumulated nearly two million Instagram followers and collaborated with major brands and famous musicians, attracted by his graphic universe.

But he had never sold any work under his own name until recently, when a new technology catapulted him into orbit as one of the most fashionable artists in the world.

NFTs are collectible digital assets that use blockchain technology to turn virtual work into something unique, with a documented provenance that cannot be altered, guaranteeing authenticity and making the work ownable.

That goes for pretty much anything on the internet where, previously, content by its nature was easy to duplicate.

At the end of February another of his works, "Crossroads," was resold for $6.6 million on the platform Nifty Gateway, which specializes in virtual works. Beeple received 10 percent.

And an animation that he himself had sold at the end of October last year for a symbolic dollar was recently acquired for $150,000.

The five most expensive works by living artists

'Rabbit', Jeff Koons 

The stainless steel casting of an inflatable rabbit fetched a record price for a living artist of $91.1 million at Christie's in May 2019.

Just over a metre tall (41 inches), the 1986 work is one of 66-year-old Koons' most famous works.

The piece was auctioned from the collection of the late publishing mogul S.I. Newhouse, whose empire included Conde Nast, which published magazines like Vogue, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

While pricey, it pales in comparison to the $450 million paid in 2017 for Leonardo da Vinci's painting "Salvator Mundi", the world's most expensive artwork.

'Portrait of an Artist', David Hockney

The previous living artist record was held by British-born painter David Hockney for "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)", which fetched $90.3 million in November 2018.

Completed in 1972, the colourful oil painting shows a smartly dressed man standing on the edge of the pool and looking pensively at another figure swimming under water toward him.

'Everyday: the First 5,000 Days', Beeple

A digital collage by the American artist Beeple sold for a record $69.3 million at Christie's in New York on Thursday, making it the most expensive digital piece ever.

The artist - whose real name is Mike Winkelmann - was still a bored web designer who had sold nothing when he began creating a work a day in May 2007.

The project took 13 years to complete, and was sold as a "non-fungible token" piece (NFT), using blockchain technology to guarantee its uniqueness and authenticity.

'Balloon Dog (Orange)', Jeff Koons 

One of Koons' now classic balloon dog sculptures made history by fetching $58.4 million in 2013, then the record for a living artist.

It is one of five Koons sculptures of dogs in different colours that appear to be made from balloons that have become icons of contemporary art.

'Hurting the Word Radio #2', Ed Ruscha

The oil painting by American pop artist Ed Ruscha was sold by Christie's in November 2019 for $52.4 million.

The 1964 painting, measuring 1.5 by 1.4 metres, depicts the word "radio" in big yellow capital letters, mimmicking the lettering found in advertisements. Some of the letters are deformed by vices against the background of a blue sky.