Nyan Cat turns 10 this year, and to mark the occasion, a one-of-a-kind edition of the iconic GIF is going up for auction. Chris Torres, the artist behind Nyan Cat, has remastered the original animation and will be selling it through the crypto art platform Foundation. The auction begins at 1PM ET today and will run for around 24 hours.
“I’m looking at [the GIF] right now, and I’m like, ‘Yes, it looks good,’” Torres said in a phone call with The Verge. “I think it turned out really well this time around.”
Crypto art has been growing in popularity over the past few years, and there are now a number of digital marketplaces — including Zora, SuperRare, and Nifty Gateway — where collectors can buy and sell digital works. Last year, the digital artist Beeple sold a series of works for more than $3.5 million in total, and the musician Deadmau5 sold thousands of digital pins, stickers, and other collectibles in December.
Buyers of these works get the privilege of “owning” a piece of digital art — to the limited extent one can really own an endlessly reproducible image file. Artwork typically comes with a license that allows the buyer to display them for personal use on, say, a social media page, another digital marketplace, in a game world, or in a virtual museum. The artists generally maintain all intellectual and creative rights to the works.
That means, in some ways, buyers are really just purchasing bragging rights. “To be able to say that I’m the collector who actually owns and is a patron of this artist carries a certain kind of prestige that is really appealing to people,” Lindsay Howard, Foundation’s head of community, told The Verge. “You also get to directly support an artist, and I think that is really exciting for people.”
Pieces of crypto art are generally sold through “non-fungible tokens,” or NFTs, which are unique digital tokens that live on a blockchain and verify ownership of a piece. Digital artworks can be resold, and in some cases — like on Foundation — artists continue to get a cut of future sales. That means, like so much else involving the blockchain, there’s also an element of investment and speculation when purchasing crypto art since you may be able to resell a work for profit down the road.
There are some drawbacks to crypto art — particularly when it comes to energy consumption. Like bitcoin, NFTs are powered by inefficient computer processes designed to validate data. Ethereum, which most crypto art platforms rely on, is much more efficient than bitcoin, but even its creator has called the system “a huge waste of resources.” Ethereum is still in the process of whittling down its energy usage to a far tinier footprint.
Foundation is one of the newest entrants to the crypto art space. It launched just two weeks ago, and it’s already facilitated more than $410,000 in sales. (Though, like many crypto art platforms, sales are actually made with the cryptocurrency Ether.) “There’s an explosion that’s happening right now where artists are finally being compensated for the work that they’re creating and sharing online,” Howard said.
Torres says crypto art offers meme creators like himself a way to directly profit off of work that has otherwise spread freely across the web. “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.” (Torres has also built a licensing business around Nyan Cat so the character can appear in games or be made into toys.)
To remaster Nyan Cat, which turns 10 on April 2nd, Torres went back to the original GIF to make it larger and touch up minor flaws that have bugged him over the years. One star in the original 12-frame animation would pop in out of nowhere, Torres said, so he took it out for the remastered edition. “That always bothered me,” he said.
Once this remaster sells, Torres doesn’t plan to offer another of Nyan Cat’s original image. That means only one buyer will be able to lay claim to Nyan Cat.
“I think it’s cool knowing you own the only piece in existence,” Torres said. “And I feel like Nyan Cat will be a really special one to own.”