This past weekend, the anonymous artist Pak sold 250,000 NFTs for $91.8 million on Nifty Gateway, in what the NFT platform called the “largest ever art sale by a living creator.”
Between December 2 and December 4, Nifty Gateway offered Pak’s latest project, titled The Merge, as an open edition with a twist. Each mass token was programmed to combine with others in a collector’s wallet. The more mass one collected, the larger one’s final mass would be. Collectors were further incentivized with bonus mass that increased proportionally with the size of one’s final NFT. By the end of the sale, 26,000 collectors had participated.
Typically, artworks head to auction as single pieces, rather than in series. (The 1986 sculpture Rabbit, for example, made Jeff Koons the most expensive living artist in 2019 when it sold for $91.1 million.) But The Merge defies traditional definitions for a series and an artwork. Because it contains a mechanism capable of combining its disparate pieces, it has the potential of coalescing into a singular artwork. Depending on how you look at it, Nifty Gateway’s grand statement may or may not be accurate.
Whatever the case may be, those involved with the sale hailed it as something revolutionary. Duncan Cock Foster, a cofounder of Nifty Gateway, said in an interview, “I would quote something Pak said to us immediately after the sale. He said, ‘This is the largest single artwork sale ever sold publicly. And it didn’t happen at a traditional auction house, it happened on a web3 platform.’”
Cock Foster continued, “Depending on the size of the mass that you bought, the artwork will change and have different attributes. And it’s all fully encoded on chain, including the metadata.”
No one knows that these NFTs will look like, however. Everyone’s mass tokens will be minted and unveiled later on Monday, and it’s at this point that tokens in one’s wallet will merge.
The terms of owning The Merge are likewise unusual. The project has a built-in scarcity mechanism that ensured that, by the end of the sale, these tokens went from being almost infinitely available to incredibly rare. The holder of the most mass is set to be awarded with another work known as Alpha Mass, but this isn’t a secure title. As collectors take to the secondary markets in the coming days to sell their Merge NFTs, each of them denoting how many mass units they contain, the ownership title could be transferred to somebody else. In other words, Alpha Mass could, in effect, very likely be reassigned to a new owner. In a tweet, Pak described this fascinating scarcity mechanism as “a game of extinction.”
Pak is an artist who likes to play with the full potential of NFTs. Their “Fungible Open Editions” collection, offered at Sotheby’s this past April, also experimented with the concept of transformative accumulation. Purchasing one “Cube” token would simply result in a cube-like NFT, but if a collector bought 6 “Cubes,” they would end up with two NFTs, a “5 Cubes” and “A Cube,” both of which are visually distinct. There were also ways to special-edition “Cubes,” including by tweeting #PakWasHere to the most possible followers. That project generated $17 million in sales.
Although gimmickry is involved, The Merge artfully comments on the social dynamics of the NFT space, where collectivity is prized in spite of heated competition. The elegance of his latest project, and its sleek, Steve Jobs–like aesthetics, offer proof that the NFT scene is maturing, growing increasingly interested in conceptual work.