Early NFT Art: The Top Artists and Collections

Early NFT Art

TL;DR
An NFT artwork called Ringers #879, also known as The Goose, sold at auction for a total of $6.2 million, bringing attention back onto early NFT artwork. Other important NFT artists and collections from around the same era include the Autoglyphs collection by Larva Labs, the Chromie Squiggle and Fidenza collections on Art Blocks, and glitch artist XCOPY.

There were big NFT art headlines recently around the sale of an item known affectionately as The Goose, which was bought at a Sotheby’s auction for $6.2 million (including the Sotheby’s buyer’s premium). It’s by generative artist Dmitri Cherniak, is actually called Ringers #879, and it was part of a sale of 37 NFTs formerly belonging to bankrupt crypto firm Three Arrows Capital.

In some ways, art is one of the most straightforward parts of the NFT world: a logical format for digital artists to sell their work and for collectors to pick up assets, with no awkward questions around utility or securities laws.

That in mind, and with The Goose bringing attention to a collection that made waves when the NFT space was first taking off (and with the sale triggering the creation of some amazing remixes), let’s take a look at some important artists and OG collections that define the early days of NFT art.

Ringers

NFT art
Image credit: Dmitri Cherniak

The Goose is one item from a generative art collection called Ringers, which was created by artist Dmitri Cherniak in January 2021 and sold through the Art Blocks platform. It’s a collection of 1,000 pieces based around the simple concept of wrapping a thread around a series of points and finding what patterns are created.

The results are striking and strangely compelling, and, having first minted for just 0.1 ETH (and selling out in less than twenty minutes), the entire collection is now highly valued, with a 40 ETH floor price.

NFT art
Ringers #879 (The Goose). Image credit: Dmitri Cherniak

That said, one caveat about that huge price tag on The Goose is that it was bought by Punk6529, who is deeply involved in the NFT scene as collector, investor and enthusiast, and as the founder of the Open Metaverse and Memes projects. As such, it’s reasonable to question whether the sale accurately reflects interest in NFTs outside the crypto space.

Autoglyphs

NFT art
Image credit: Larva Labs

For fully on-chain generative art, you need to start with the Autoglyphs collection, which was minted back in April 2019 by Larva Labs, also the creators of the original, format-establishing PFP collection CryptoPunks.

That’s a lot of historical importance all squeezed into one collection, and it’s reflected in the floor price, with the cheapest of the 512 Autoglyphs pieces currently available for 289 ETH. For reference, the original creation fee on an Autoglyph was 0.2 ETH, which was only around $35 at the time.

Chromie Squiggle

This collection was created by Erik Calderon, also known as Snowfro, and minted back in November 2020 as the genesis project on the Art Blocks platform, which was also founded by Calderon. This means Squiggles and Art Blocks are inextricably tied together, and Art Blocks went on to become a huge influence in the NFT space, curating and promoting generative art mints from a wide range of artists.

As for the Squiggles themselves, they’ve become instantly recognizable symbols of NFT art, for better or worse. People have been saying ‘anyone could make that’ about modern art ever since, well, since modern artists started outputting art that anyone could make, but that criticism tends not to affect valuations, and Squiggles are highly collectible. In fact, three were scooped up earlier this week for a combined price of 76 ETH.

NFT art

And if you’re thinking of buying a Squiggle, then keep in mind that there are varying trait rarities, with less common types commanding much higher prices.

NFT art
Image credit: Chromie Squiggle

Fidenza

Chromie Squiggle may take accolades as the Art Blocks genesis project, but perhaps the most celebrated collection to have emerged from the platform is Fidenza, minted in June 2021 by the artist Tyler Hobbs. Like everything on Art Blocks, it’s generative art, and this collection contains 999 pieces.

It’s also, compared to Chromie Squiggle, easier to see from an aesthetic point of view why people actually like this one. If you’re into geometry and abstract patterns, then you might find Fidenzas very pleasing to the eye.

NFT art
Image credit: Tyler Hobbs

One piece in particular, known as The Tulip (actually Fidenza #313), has become iconic. That’s partly because it’s an especially bold-looking work of art that would look great on a huge canvas (printing on #313 appears to be still available to the holder), but it’s also because in August 2021 it was bought for 1,000 ETH by none other than Punk6529, who you may remember is the new owner of a $6.2 million Goose.

By the way, the seller in that 1,000 ETH transaction had picked up Fidenza #313 for 0.58 ETH ten weeks earlier, after it had minted at 0.17 ETH.

XCOPY

He recently worked on a new collaboration called Scroll-Bid-Collect with an emerging artist named IWAN, but the creator known as XCOPY has been creating NFT art from the very start, or even before the very start, as he was releasing digital art on the Bitcoin blockchain before NFTs as they are now became a fully established format.

Although his identity is still unknown, the British artist’s glitchy portfolio goes back, through his Tumblr posts, all the way to 2010, and he experimented with the Ascribe protocol (on Bitcoin) in 2018. From there, he gravitated towards Ethereum (he was working with SuperRare while it was still in Beta testing) and has gone on to release an expansive range of 1/1 art and limited edition collections, and been part of multiple collaborations.

NFT art
Image credit: XCOPY

And by the way, XCOPY’s most famous work– called summer.jpg and minted in August 2021–happens to be owned by, once again, Punk6529, illustrating how NFT art is simultaneously both a small world but contains endless paths to explore.

All of the above is, of course, not a comprehensive list of the creators and projects that made early NFT history, and some other influential figures to check out would have to include artists such as Deafbeef, Fvckrender, Mathcastles, and DeeKay Kwon. Also, when you start looking around, you’re sure to find many more along the way too, which is all part of the fun.

Early NFT Art: The Top Artists and Collections - - 2024

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Early NFT Art: The Top Artists and Collections - - 2024
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