NFT Expert Noah Davis on Beeple, CryptoPunks, and the Comfort of Knowing Nothing

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Despite being branded as New York’s non-fungible token (NFT) expert, Noah Davis still navigates the unpredictability of the market. “I can barely tell you what’s going to be hot in the next three weeks, let alone the next three months,” he told the Observer.

Davis helped start the NFT boom in the art world, working as Christie’s NFT expert and leading Beeple’s March 2021 sale Daily: first 5,000 dayssold for $69 million.

In June, he quit his job at the auction house to work with Yuga Labs, the company that recently acquired the NFT CryptoPunks collection. The 10,000 unique digital characters, which Davis described as “the cave paintings of the Web3 era,” were created in 2017 and are credited as one of the first projects to help spark the NFT craze.

Starting August 15, CryptoPunks NFT holders will receive the commercial rights to their NFTs to use in personal and commercial projects. The first example of this was seen in early August, when a CryptoPunk holder collaborated with Tiffany to create “NFTiffs,” allowing CryptoPunk holders to purchase a Tiffany pendant based on their NFT.

This historic Beeple sale

Davis, 33, was born and raised in Los Angeles. Prior to joining Christie’s, he completed a degree in English specializing in post-war absurd French theater at New York University and worked in the publications department of the Gagosian Gallery in New York.

The success of the Beeple sale was a complete accident, Davis said. He vividly remembers when the idea for the auction was born, because of the memorable date: January 6, the day of the US Capitol uprising.

“My brilliant colleague Megan Doyle shouted from across the aisle, ‘Hey, would you put an NFT in your sale?'” Davis said. “I said yes, but I barely knew what an NFT was. The way I got Christie’s on board was to present this as our opportunity to play with cryptocurrency for the first time. No one expected it to be a $69 million sale.

After seeing the final bid amount, Davis closed his laptop.

“I was totally shocked and a bit terrified,” he said. “I knew my career had just taken a very sharp turn. Immediately, the pressure mounted. There’s an old adage in the auction world, “You’re only worth your last sale.”

Leaving Christie’s

After a year of helping the auction house embrace the NFT market, Davis decided to leave his position as head of digital sales at Christie’s to work on the CryptoPunks collection.

“I think we’ve done a lot to push the narrative forward and keep NFTs at the forefront of pop culture. But there’s not much you can do in a legacy organization like Christie’s, and I felt I kind of reached my limit,” he said.

While Davis thinks Christie’s needs to integrate NFT sales on blockchains moving forward, he has high hopes for the auction house.

“I think Christie’s is definitely building something that’s sustainable, and they’re adapting to this new paradigm as impressively as a 300-year-old organization can. Sotheby’s rolled out what they called a metaverse – it’s not a metaverse. At Christie’s, they took a much more methodical and deliberate approach to everything.

The Future of CryptoPunks

Upon leaving Christie’s, Davis posted a tweet reassuring CryptoPunks holders of his plans for the collection, which included “no lunchbox punks or shitty TV shows/movies.”

Some might wonder if the plan to give commercial rights to punk holders will actually lead to a punk on a lunchbox. However, Davis said his sentiment persisted despite the new offer.

“Yuga Labs won’t do any of these things, that’s what I meant,” he said of the tweet. “Maybe a punk will make a shitty movie, but it won’t be Yuga Labs. If a punk wants to make a lunchbox with his punk on it, by all means. It’s all right.”

On the sustainability of the NFT market

Despite a tumultuous downturn in the NFT world, Davis remains optimistic. “It’s not going to surprise you at all, but I’m super optimistic about the future of NFTs. And the reason for that is that I think we’re still ahead, as cringe as that is.

He thinks the market is still waiting for the rest of the world to catch up, especially those who don’t understand the value of NFTs as something that can be used for ticketing, voting and even passports.

“If we want to live more fully in a virtual world, providing ownership of virtual goods will be all the more important and part of your daily life. I don’t see any trajectory here where NFTs become less important.

At the end of the day, however, Davis is no more confident in his role in the NFT world than he was on January 6, living by the “all I know is nothing” mantra.

“It’s a meditative and comforting truism for me,” Davis said. “I think everyone should accept that a bit more. Approaching this space with the humility that you know nothing, and accepting and embracing that, can be a superpower.

This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people who power the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it goes live.

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