The first non-fungible token (NFT) ever created has been sold. Kevin McCoy’s “Quantum” (2014-2021) raked in $1.4 million with fees at the close of Sotheby’s auction Natively Digital: A Curated NFT Sale this morning. The buyer, known by his pseudonym Sillytuna, sold a “CryptoPunk” NFT from his collection in the same auction for $11.8 million.
Over the past months, the NFT craze has spawned a seemingly endless stream of bombastic headlines, making stories about crypto art increasingly tedious and mundane. The sale of “Quantum” is a rare unique moment in the history of the medium, which McCoy is believed to have pioneered seven years ago.
The artist created or “minted” the token on the Namecoin blockchain on May 2, 2014, using a technology he developed with coder Anil Dash. The two collaborators envisioned a system that would enable digital artists to sell, track, and take ownership of their works, often shared on blogs like Tumblr with no credit or attribution.
When Dash and McCoy gave a live demonstration of their new “monetized graphics” system at the New Museum in New York City, their audience laughed.
Today, the pixelated image of an octagon filled with concentric circles hypnotically pulsing in fluorescent hues was among the leading lots in Sotheby’s NFT sale. The auction house described the token as a “seismic genesis work” comparable to Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) or Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square” (1915) — watershed works that ushered in major artistic movements, at least according to prevailing Eurocentric versions of art history.
“For a while I was thinking that Quantum should go into the collection of a museum like MoMA but now I’m like fuck it,” McCoy said in a recent interview with Ocula Magazine.
While $1.4 million is nothing to sniff at, the price is a mere fraction of the $69 million paid for Beeple’s “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS,” sold by Christie’s in March. And although Sotheby’s did not release a pre-sale estimate for “Quantum,” the final number is significantly below the $7 million hammer projected by reporters at Axios.
Recently, signs have surfaced of a cooling market for NFTs, though reports are conflicting, with some confident that crypto art is here to stay. A study by Protos.com found that the NFT market has dropped by 90% in overall performance since May 3. In the first week of June, only $19.4 million in NFT sales was recorded, down from a peak of $102 million in a single day.