NFT expert Noah Davis on Beeple, CryptoPunks and the comfort of knowing nothing

NFT expert Noah Davis on Beeple, CryptoPunks and the comfort of knowing nothing
NFT expert Noah Davis on Beeple, CryptoPunks and the comfort of knowing nothing

This story was originally published in The creators — a newsletter about the people who run the creative economy. Get it delivered to your inbox.

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

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

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

Starting August 15th, CryptoPunk’s NFT holders will get commercial rights to their NFTs to use them in personal and commercial projects. The first instance of this was seen in early August, when a CryptoPunk holder partnered with Tiffany’s to create ‘NFTiffs’, allowing CryptoPunks holders to purchase a Tiffany pendant based on their NFT.

The historic Beeple sale

Davis, 33, was born and raised in Los Angeles. Before joining Christie’s, he earned an English degree focusing on postwar absurdist French theater at New York University and worked in the publications department at New York’s Gagosian Gallery.

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

“My brilliant colleague Megan Doyle shouted across the aisle ‘Hey, do you want to put an NFT in your sale?'” Davis said. “I said yes, but I hardly knew what an NFT was. The way I got buy-in from Christie’s was to frame this as our opportunity to play with cryptocurrency for the first time. Nobody expected it to be a $69 million sale.”

After seeing the final bid amount, Davis slammed his laptop shut.

“I was completely shocked and a little scared,” he said. “I knew my career had just taken a sharp, sharp turn. Immediately the pressure was on. There’s an old saying in the auction world, “you’re only as good as 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 did a lot to drive the narrative forward and keep NFTs at the forefront of pop culture. But there’s only so much you can do from a legacy organization like Christie’s, and I felt like I’d reached my limit,” he said.

While Davis believes Christie’s needs to incorporate NFT sales on blockchain to move forward, he has high hopes for the auction house.

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

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The Future of CryptoPunks

As he left Christie’s, Davis posted a tweet assuring CryptoPunks holders of his plans for the collection, which included “no punks on lunchboxes or horrible TV shows / dirty movies.”

Some may question whether the plan to give commercial rights to Punk holders will actually lead to a Punk on the lunchbox. However, Davis said his sentiment stands despite the new offer.

“Yuga Labs is not going to do any of these things, is what I meant to say,” he said of the tweet. “Maybe a punk wants to make a shitty movie, but it’s not going to be Yuga Labs. If a punk wants to make a lunchbox with his punk on it, by all means. Everything goes.”

About the sustainability of the NFT market

Despite a tumultuous downturn in the NFT world, Davis remains optimistic. “This isn’t going to surprise you at all, but I’m super bullish on the future of NFTs. And the reason for that is because I think we’re still early days, as lousy as it is to say.”

He believes 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’re going to live more fully in a virtual world, giving ownership of virtual goods will be that much more important and integrated into your everyday life. I don’t see any trajectory here where NFTs become less important.”

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

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“It’s a meditative, comforting truism for me,” Davis said. “I think all people should embrace that a little bit more. Approaching this space with the humility that you don’t know anything, and accepting and embracing that, can be a superpower.”

This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people who run the creative economy. Get it in your inbox before it’s online.

NFT expert Noah Davis on Beeple, CryptoPunks and the comfort of knowing nothing

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