10 of the Most Unusual Things Put Up for Auction
More often than not, when something goes up for auction it’s because the item has been deemed invaluable. However, there have been some instances where a truly unusual thing has gone up for auction and actually been purchased for hundreds, if not millions, of dollars. Consequently, the world of auctions is filled with some interesting purchases, from virus-ridden laptops to paintings that shred themselves and AI-generated artwork. Now, does that pique your curiosity? If so, here are some of the most unusual things put up for auction!
1 In 2019, a malware-ridden laptop was sold for $1.3 million.
Who would have thought that a virus-ridden laptop would ever be valuable? But in 2019, such a laptop was sold for a staggering $1.3 million. A joint venture between artist Guo O Dong and cybersecurity firm Deep Instinct, this laptop was packed with six types of dangerous malware, including ones like the ILOVEYOU virus from 2000 and the WannaCry ransomware. It was then sold as an artwork bearing the title “The Persistence of Chaos.”
Now, you might be wondering how that is even remotely legal. After all, selling such dangerous malware even for the sake of art seems a bit unwise, right? But as it turns out, the sellers of this artwork did think of this. As a result, the laptop’s buyer was to receive it only after its ports and Internet capabilities had been “functionally disabled.” Regardless, this piece of art will remain a reminder of the tangible ways in which the Internet can affect our lives. (1, 2)
2 “A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter” is an art piece that carried a program that would relist the thing on sale every week.
“A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter,” created by Caleb Larsen, is an artwork unlike any other. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary black box. But what makes it unique is that it is designed to place itself on auction on eBay every seven days. In fact, this artwork’s technology is specifically designed to allow its buying and selling to carry on forever.
But hold on, why would any buyer be fine with an artwork that they cannot really own? Luckily, there are at least a couple of things that would explain this. For one, the artist’s conditions for sale require that the box be “live” at all times. Disconnections are allowed, but only during transportation. Second, the buyer can set a new price for the artwork based on the artist’s current market value. This could then be more than what they paid for it. The catch, however, is that 15% of any increase in the artwork’s value would need to go to Larsen. In 2010, an art collector named Terence Spies was reported to have bid on the art piece and won for some $6,350. (1, 2)
3 In 2021, a partially-shredded Banksy painting sold at an auction for $25.4 million.
Artist Banksy truly needs no introduction. His artwork and its political and social themes have been widely noted for their uniqueness. But in 2018, he still managed to take people by surprise when one of his paintings shredded itself after it had been sold for $1.4 million.
Just after bids closed on this artwork, titled “Girl with the Balloon,” the piece fell through a shredder that had been built into its picture frame. Now, had it been any other artist, this move may have made the art piece worthless. But given that this was a Banksy creation, it only multiplied in value. And so, in 2021, the painting once again went up for auction. But this time it was titled “Love is in the Bin.” It then sold for a whopping $25.4 million, a price about 20 times its previous winning bid. (1, 2)
4 An AI-generated painting sold for a whopping $432,500 at a Christie’s auction.
Automation has slowly been taking over certain jobs in the world. And now, it looks like AI or artificial intelligence is delving into the world of art as well. The “Portrait of Edmond Belamy” is a painting created by an AI and the first of its kind to be auctioned off in the art world. The man in the painting has a blurry face and is painted in the “Old Master” style used by artists such as Rembrandt in the 17th century. This painting is the product of a Paris art collective called “Obvious” and is part of a set that showcases members of the fictional Belamy family.
The collective uses an AI method called “generative adversarial network” (GAN) for its works. They also reportedly fed the AI a data set of 15,000 portraits made between the 14th and 20th centuries to come up with paintings like this one. The algorithm used here has two parts, a generator and a discriminator. The generator makes a new picture based on the data set it is fed, while the discriminator tries to spot the difference between the image created by the generator and a human-made image. The aim, then, is to make the discriminator think that the new images are actual portraits. In 2018, this painting was sold off at an auction at Christie’s in New York City for a wonderful $432,500. (1, 2)
5 A biscuit from a Titanic lifeboat sold at an auction for £15,000 (about $23,000).
Of all the things that could have survived the tragic sinking of the Titanic, a biscuit is probably the last thing we would have imagined. However, not only did a Spillers and Bakers pilot cracker survive the sinking of the ship but also went on to become “the world’s most valuable biscuit.” This biscuit had been saved by a passenger on the Carpathia that picked up survivors from the Titanic. The passenger, named James Fenwick, kept this biscuit in an envelope along with a notation that said, “Pilot biscuit from Titanic lifeboat April 1912.”
In 2015, the biscuit went up for auction and was bought by a collector in Greece for £15,000 (about $23,000). This auction also featured other items related to the tragedy, such as some photographs, a journal, and the “loving cup” presented to the captain of the Carpathia for helping survivors of the Titanic. (1, 2)
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