The 10,000 Faces That Started the NFT Revolution

Within 24 hours, all the wicked were gone; One man who saw the post collected 758 of them.

Within days, collectors began buying and selling—but immediately, they ran into problems. When someone tried to buy Punk, a horrific mistake in the smart contract caused the payment to go not from the buyer to the seller — but back directly to the buyer. The lucky buyer ended up with both Punk And He offered money, and the seller got nothing. Nearly a dozen people were burned, and Hall was horrified. “That was a complete disaster,” Watkinson says. “It’s like, OK, our market is roasting.” They posted urgent updates on their website and Twitter telling people to stop trading. Then they wrote a new smart contract in which they canceled all trades and, after several days, implemented it.

Now that the market is up and running, Larva Labs has created a Discord channel where collectors like Calderon celebrate the details of The Punks, dream up characters for their purchases, and pitch ideas for other projects involving digital collectibles. Watkinson and Hal’s passionate project launched a tumultuous community, and they were happy. They thought their work was basically done.

First time That Anne Bracegirdle overheard Watkinson talking about CryptoPunks, at a blockchain technician meeting in midtown Manhattan in early 2018, she became determined to meet the pair. Bracegirdle was a photography major at Christie’s at the time. During her nearly 10 years at the auction house, she saw how difficult it was to verify the provenance of the work. And reassuring potential buyers of the photo’s rarity was a challenge when, say, a neighborhood photographer could decide on a whim to release more prints. The Punks and blockchain provide an interesting solution to both problems.

Immediately, Bracegirdle saw a resemblance to Hall and Watkinson’s work: “It immediately dawned on me that they were like Andy Warhol,” she says. Hall and Watkinson were “critical and exploring the way we now consume,” she says, just as Warhol did with Campbell’s soup cans. Bracegirdle invited Monday to a blockchain-themed event that she was planning to hold at Christie’s in London. Just like that, they were pushed into the pesky fine art realm.

In July of that year, Watkinson and Hull traveled to London. At the auction house, they stopped to take pictures of themselves under a Christie’s banner. About 350 people dressed in T-shirts and zip-up jackets gathered in the building. Contemporary works from an upcoming auction have been installed throughout. It was on one wall yellow lambo, a 10-foot-tall neon yellow 42-digit sign, the address of the smart contract for a cryptocurrency of the same name. This work was done by Kevin Abosch, an artist who once sold a picture of a potato for a million dollars.

Three hours later, Hall, dressed in a dark jacket over his regular shirt, stepped onto the stage for a panel on cryptography. The broker, a generative art buff named Jason Bailey, turned to him with a deceptively simple question: What do people have when they buy CryptoPunk?

Bailey was alluding to the question of whether the same image is on the blockchain. Hall replied that his answer was a way to drive people crazy. “You own something on the blockchain — you own a record that you own,” he said. “You own the right to sell it in the future.” However, he didn’t explicitly say Larva Labs held the copyright, so it wasn’t clear if the owners could reproduce their Punks. Their project was so new and intricate that the details quickly became thorny.

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