Early Tuesday morning, mega-artist Jeff Koons announced that he would be launching his first-ever NFT collection, titled “Moon Phases.” For anyone with a passing knowledge of his work, there was little surprise.
The NFTs will be linked to sculptures landed on the moon in a fully automized mission orchestrated by the private aero-space company Intuitive Machines. While we don’t yet know the design of either, Koons’ style would seem to lend itself easily to NFTs.
After all, Koons was a pioneer of creating work that blurs the line between art piece and collectible. Consider Koons’ toy balloon sculptures. They are, more or less, the same form repeated in different colorways and sizes, which he, of course, sells for eye-popping sums of money
In some ways, NFTs as they exist today wouldn’t be possible without Koons and artists like him, whose artistic practices have come to be defined by easily replicated, disseminated, and understood avatars. Koons is automatically associated with his iconic balloon animal figures like Rabbit (1986) and Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994). Damien Hirst has made a career of bejewling Mickey Mouse and Goofy sculptures with crystals, when he isn’t encasing dead animals in formaldehyde. KAWS is another whose interpretation of Mickey Mouse has gotten him far. His collectable figures, along with their much larger versions in museums, have become an inescapable ploy for street-style cool. Meanwhile, Takashi Murakami’s iconic smiling, rainbow petaled flower is set to become an NFT series themselves.
Avatars dominate the NFT scene, whether it is the Bored Ape Yacht Club, CryptoPunks, or any other of the thousands of other PFP, or profile pic, NFT projects that have been hyped over the last year.
Without Koons, the NFT’s mass produced avatar could’ve never been legitimized. He belongs to a generation of artists who, after Andy Warhol, were interested in not just exploring market mechanisms through their art, but replicating them.
Koons has been exploring branding and advertising since early in his career, like the 1986 series Luxury and Degradation in which he reprinted and framed alcohol advertisements. Two years later, he would create his own ads for his Banality series show Art Magazine Ads, which he then had placed in art magazines around the country.
But his avatar-like works came even earlier. By the 1970s, Koons was already making toy balloon sculptures with his Statuary series. Though he would stray from his own iconography to do representations of popular cartoons and celebrities, he would always return to his balloon figures.
The balloon figures, just as those sculptures and images by Hirst, Murakami, and KAWS, revel in a kind of infantilization, and there comes a point where it is unclear what is commentary and what is perpetuation of the form. These artists take their work to be a mirror held up to the face of the market, but the line between ironic performance and actually becoming the thing you once criticized is thin.
I would argue that line is destroyed when it becomes your livelihood. If your business is in factory-made toys, maybe you’re just a toy maker.
Koons has spent his career blurring, if not outright destroying, the line between the market and art. And it was the destruction of this line that has allowed certain NFT projects to be seriously considered as potential art objects. A Bored Ape doesn’t have to mean anything, and neither does a balloon dog. They’re just pure asset, that’s their art.
It only makes sense that now, living in the art world he has wrought, Koons would start making NFTs. After all, Koons may be the highest selling living artist, but digital artist Beeple, who sold an NFT last year for $69.3 million, isn’t far behind.
The 15 Most Expensive NFT Sales of All Time
We’ve come a long way since the first NFT, Quantum, was minted in 2014. Since that time, projects like CryptoKitties, Rare Pepes, and CryptoPunks have revolutionized the industry — both creatively and financially. NFT sales have skyrocketed, and many of the most famous NFTs have brought in millions of dollars. But when it comes to expensive NFTs, just how high can the numbers get?
It’s difficult to say, as things in the NFT ecosystem are growing and evolving rapidly. And as time goes on, many new artists are becoming millionaires, and more and more celebrities are spending seven figures on Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs (and others!). But although we can’t say how high the numbers will climb, we can say what the highest selling NFTs are so far.
To record all of the historic milestones, we’ve compiled a list of the most expensive NFT art pieces ever sold. It’s important to note: while there have been collections and multi-NFT auctions that have brought in millions upon millions — like Pak’s famous NFT, the $91.8 million Merge open edition — these are the biggest single NFT sales to ever happen.
And be sure to bookmark this page and come back for the latest information. As noted, things are changing rapidly, and we’ll be updating this article with new entries as even bigger NFT sales take place.
15. All Time High in the City – 6,200,000 million (1,630 ETH)
XCopy’s “All Time High in the City” sold for 1,630 ETH in January 2022, just a few months after initially selling for 1,000 ETH. The animated artwork, which was minted in 2018, depicts the ferryman of the underworld transporting a man across the river Styx.
XCopy is a London-based artist known for this dark, abstract, and dystopian illustrations. He often uses motion, flickering, or glitching effects in his pieces.
14. Beeple – Crossroad – $6,600,000 (4,400 ETH)
Before NFTs had received any truly significant mainstream news coverage, Beeple’s “Crossroad” became a meme surrounding the 2020 presidential race. It was created as a reflection of the political tension in the United States, and Beeple says he had multiple versions of the piece ready, depending on who won the presidency.
Originally minted on Oct. 30, 2020, the piece sold for $66,666 to influential collector Pablo Fraile. Only four months later, it found a new home with faceless collector anonymous10.
13. CryptoPunk #8857 – $6,630,000 (2,000 ETH)
Zombie CryptoPunks are some of the most famous NFTs to date. Why? For starters, they come from one of the earliest NFT collections, CryptoPunks. Additionally, there are only 88 zombie CryptoPunks in existence. As a result, the entire NFT community takes notice when one is traded. The sale of CryptoPunk #8857 was obviously no exception, as the $6.6 million price tag was definitely enough to turn heads on its own.
The sale of Punk #8857 came as part of a string of buys that happened throughout the summer and fall of 2021. The enormous price tag was partially triggered by a legendary single-day sale in which NFT collector Keyboard Monkey bought a zombie Punk and sold it less than 24 hours later for a profit of nearly one million dollars. It was what many would call the height of zombie NFT trading. Around this time in the zombie Punk market, we even saw the birth of prominent investor Cozomo de’ Medici with the purchase of CryptoPunk #3831. That said, #8857 was never given a personality on Twitter or any other social media platforms.
12. Right-click and Save As Guy – $7,088,229 (1600 ETH)
The legend of XCOPY’s “Right-click and Save As Guy” goes back far beyond the days of our current NFT ecosystem. It was minted years ago, on Dec. 6, 2018. The iconic piece helped signal a shift in public perception about NFTs when it was featured on BBC World News, shortly after Beeple’s landmark Everydays auction.
As this famous NFT art had only changed hands twice before this latest sale — first for $90 (1 ETH) and then for $174,195 (99 ETH) — Cozomo de’ Medici’s buy marked a 3,500%+ increase in the value of the artwork.
11. Ringers by Dmitri Cherniak #109 – $7,117,908 (2,100 ETH)
Dmitri Cherniak’s piece, which is formally titled “Ringers,” is one of the most beloved collections to come from the prestigious generative art platform Art Blocks Curated. As one of the first projects to launch in 2021, the historical value of Cherniak’s endeavor to enter into the expensive NFT bull market made the sale of Ringers #109 all that more interesting.
Having seen nearly $100 million in all-time secondary trading volume, Ringers has continued to exist as a generative art favorite within the NFT community. Even amidst controversy surrounding Cherniak’s original inspiration for the project, Ringers has continued to see massive sales.
10. CryptoPunk #7804 – $7,560,000 (4,200 ETH)
Next on our list of the most expensive NFTs is CryptoPunk #7804. This NFT was one of two major alien Punk sales to happen on March 11, 2021. Purchased for the equivalent of $7.5 million at the time, the 4,200 ETH price tag would amount to nearly $17 million at 2021 year-end.
The significance of this purchase goes far beyond the price though. Almost immediately after the Punk changed hands, we witnessed the birth of NFT collector and social media influencer Peruggia (who has been heavily speculated to be the alternate account of prominent investor Robert Leshner).
9. CryptoPunk #3100 – $7,570,000 (4,200 ETH)
The second major Punk sale to happen on March 11, 2021, was CryptoPunk #3100. This also happened to be the last on-chain alien Punk sale of 2021. We wouldn’t see another change hands till the Sotheby’s auction of CryptoPunk #7523 (also on this list).
And while CryptoPunk #3100 is one of nine aliens in existence — making it an obviously influential Punk — similar to #8857, no one came forward to give this high-profile NFT a personality via social media.
8. Crypto Punk #5577: $7,704,000 (2,501 ETH)
This cowboy-hat-wearing punk sold in February 2022 for 2,500 ETH. It’s one of 24 Ape punks, and one of 142 with cowboy hats. It is believed to have been purchased by Robert Leshner, CEO of Compound Finance, who Tweeted an enthusiastic “Yeehaw” after the sale.
7. CryptoPunk #4156 – $10,279,800 (2,500 ETH)
Although CryptoPunk #4156 wasn’t the highest selling NFT from the CryptoPunk family, it was undoubtedly the most famous NFT trade for a Punk in 2021. That’s because bandana ape #4156 had become synonymous with the personality of prominent NFT influencer and builder Punk4156. As a result, when the sales happened, it felt almost like the end of an era within the NFT community.
The sale also marked a significant turning point in the CryptoPunk ecosystem. As the legendary Larva Labs project had long been regarded as one of the most important NFT collections in existence, issues surrounding Larva Labs’ copyright policies — which Punk4156 has taken big issue with — were the reason behind both this significant trade and declining Punk prices towards the end of the year.
6. Tpunk #3443: 10,500,000 (120 million TRX)
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right? The Tpunks NFT collection was inspired by — you guessed it — the famous NFT collection known as CryptoPunks. The Tpunks collection consists of 10,000 avatars on the Tron blockchain. This rare “Joker” Tpunk was purchased by TRON founder Justin Sun in August 2021. Sun is well-versed in the NFT space. He was an active bidder on Beeple’s “Everydays: the First 5,000 Days,” but he was outbid by $250,000 at the last minute.
5. CryptoPunk #7523 – $11,754,000 (4,700 ETH)
Known to many as the “COVID Alien” due to its prominent facemask trait, CryptoPunk #7523 was the largest punk sale of 2021. It’s important to note that the blockchain does not reflect this prominent sale, as it occurred as part of Sotheby’s Natively Digital auction in June.
The original minter of #7523, Straybits, and the Punk’s second-ever collector, Sillytuna (who supplied it for auction), are both prominent parts of the NFT community. As a result, the sale was seen as a huge win for the NFT ecosystem and also as a major push towards mainstream NFT adoption.
4. Cryptopunk #5822: $23,700,000 (8,000 ETH)
The most expensive CryptoPunk ever sold is punk #5822. The alien-style punk featuring a blue bandana sold for $23 million on February 12, 2022 — more than double the cost of the next highest-grossing punk. Because it’s one of only nine aliens in the collection, it was bound to sell at a high price. The buyer is the CEO of Chain, Deepak Thapliyal. He tweeted an image of his punk after the purchase. It came close to being the highest selling NFT at the time of sale, but it missed the mark by just a few million.
3. Beeple – Human One – $28,985,000 (4,700 ETH)
Beeple’s “HUMAN ONE” is an NFT like no other. As the first-ever physical piece from the acclaimed artist, both the NFT and the electronic sculpture went up to auction as a single lot via Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale.
Considering the massive sale of Beeple’s Everydays (also on this list), many were unsure what this new, constantly-evolving digital masterpiece would fetch at auction. Yet, as Christie’s has continued to help legitimize NFTs as true works of art, it’s no wonder that Beeple’s HUMAN ONE would be second only to Beeple himself in 2021.
2. Clock – $52,700,000 (16,953 ETH)
In February of 2022, Julian Assange and Pak’s Clock NFT became the second-most expensive single NFT ever sold. The NFT depicts a timer that counts the number of days Assange has spent in prison. It was curated as part of Pak & Assange’s Censored collection, which also featured a dynamic open edition.
Pak has remained anonymous throughout their entire career, while simultaneously becoming one of the highest-grossing living artists. They took to Twitter shortly after the auction closed, labeling the endeavor “a drop with no creator, developer, platform, middlemen share,” that is “from people, for the people.”
The piece was purchased by AssangeDAO, an organization whose primary mission is to fight for the freedom of the WikiLeaks founder.
1. Beeple – Everydays: The First 5000 Days – $69,346,250 (38,525 ETH)
The single most famous NFT sale (and the most expensive NFT sale) in 2021 was Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days. Not only was this the most expensive NFT sale ever, but the event created a snowball effect throughout mainstream media, and brought the term “NFT” into households around the world.
Before Christie’s decided to take a chance on NFTs via its Online Auction, the act of minting, collecting, and trading NFTs was seen as niche at best. But after Beeple secured the biggest bag in all of NFTs, it was clear — even to Saturday Night Live — that the time of NFTs had arrived.
Honorable mention for the most expensive NFT sales
While these pieces didn’t make our list of the biggest NFT sales, they still sold at impressive prices.
Beeple’s “Ocean Front” NFT sold for $6,000,000 in March 2021 to Justin Sun. The piece, which is part of Beeple’s “Everydays” series, had the caption “together we can solve this.” This is meant to refer to the climate change crisis. Proceeds of the sale were donated to the Open Earth Foundation. XCopy’s “A Coin for the Ferryman” also sold for $6,000,000 in 2021. The glitchy piece is among the artist’s earliest creations.
Edward Snowden’s piece, Stay Free, sold for $5,406,343 (2,224 ETH) in April 2021. The NFT features Snowden’s iconic Platon portrait comprised of the court documents associated with the landmark decision ruling the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance violated the law.
Mad Dog Jones’ piece, REPLICATOR sold for $4.1 million in April 2021. According to the artist: “REPLICATOR is the story of a machine through time. It is a reflection on forms of past groundbreaking innovation and serves as a metaphor for modern technology’s continuum. I’m interested to see how collectors will respond as the work evolves and the NFTs in their possession continue to create new generations.”
This list wouldn’t be complete without some Bored Apes. Ape #8817 raked in $3,408,000 at a Sotheby’s Metaverse auction in October 2021. The Ape sports a wool turtleneck, rainbow spinner hat, and silver hoop earrings.
Bored Ape #3739 sold for $2.9 million in September 2021. The Ape is a six-trait gold fur ape with a sea captain’s hat, a black t-shirt, and laser eyes. Based on these traits, Bored Ape #3749 is the 27th rarest ape, according to Rarity Tools.
FEWOCiOUS’ piece, “Nice to meet you, I’m Mr. MiSUNDERSTOOD,” sold for $2,856,000 in 2021. The digital piece was in MP4 format. However, the winning bidder also received a lifesize physical sculpture of the same title.
The third most expensive NFT sale BAYC sale is #8585, a trippy rainbow ape that sold for nearly $2.7 million on Opeasea. The Ape has an elaborate crown, red heart-shaped sunglasses, and is posed biting its lips.