Nyan Cat, and many other digital art pieces, are currently being auctioned off for the cryptocurrency Ethereum (ether) at a price of thousands of pounds.
In a celebration of the meme’s 10-year anniversary, a remastered version of the original GIF is currently on sale. At the time of writing, with less than an hour to go until the end of the auction, the highest bid is 20.69 ether, or approximately £28,000.
It is one of several digital artworks that are currently on sale. Auction house Christie’s is currently conducting its first ever digital art auction with work from Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, who made an image every day from 1 May 2007 to 7 January 2021.
In order, this makes up a collection called Everydays: The First 5000 Days, with bidding starting at $100.
Owning a piece of digital art is achieved through a non-fungible token (NFT), which is a piece of blockchain technology similar to the cryptocurrencies that are used to purchase them.
Blockchain, as Reuters describes, is a database across a shared network of computers that keeps a record of any change that is made on it – such as a monetary transaction. In this way, the movement of information can be endlessly traced.
“Digital Art has a long established history as an artistic medium, but until the recent introduction of NFTs and blockchain technology, it was impossible to assign value to digital works of art given the ease of duplication,” Christie’s said.
“However, when an NFT-based digital creation is acquired today, the buyer receives the artwork file containing a digital signature from the artist and all vital details including time of creation, edition size and a record of any prior sales. These details are permanently attached to the artwork, providing an enduring guarantee of value.”
Speaking to The Verge Chris Torres, the artist who first created Nyan Cat, said that digital art tied to a blockchain gives meme creators a way to profit from art that has been spread across the internet.
“It gives power to the creator,” Torres said. “The creator originally owns it, and then they can sell it and directly monetize and have recognition for their work.”
Once the auction is completed, Torres will not offer another original Nyan Cat image, meaning it will only ‘belong’ to the winner of this auction – insofar as someone can own an image that can be infinitely shared across the internet.
This image, however, is slightly different than the original. Torres went back to the original GIF, made it larger, and took out a single star in the 12-frame animation that appeared out of nowhere. This is a detail that he says “always bothered [him].”
Beeple’s artwork or Nyan Cat are not the first instance of digital blockchain art. In 2017, CryptoKitties, a game that let users trade digital kittens over the Etherium blockchain, dominated traffic on the network, Quartz reports.
The personalised cats traded for thousands of dollars, with players spending around $6.7 million on the game. The more cats a player accumulated, the better attributes (”cattributes”) could be generated by ‘breeding’ the cats with each other.