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Tuesday, Dec 5, 2023

Mahaney ’84 purchases $1.1 million NFT artwork, with supposed plans to display at Middlebury

Artist and gallery say work will go in college art museum; college unaware of plans to display

“The Future Has Not Yet Been Written” (Courtesy of Brendan Murphy/Stark Group)
“The Future Has Not Yet Been Written” (Courtesy of Brendan Murphy/Stark Group)

On Wednesday, December 1, notable alumnus and donor Kevin Mahaney ’84 purchased a $1,111,111 print on glass containing 200 “non fungible tokens” (NFTs) at the Art Miami exhibition during Art Basel. According to both a press release from artist Brendan Murphy as well as the seller of the artwork, Nicole McGraw, Mahaney plans on displaying the piece — Murphy’s “The Future Has Not Yet Been Written” — in the Middlebury College Museum of Art, which is currently located in the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts. The purchase was initially reported by Kelly Crow of The Wall Street Journal.

According to Murphy’s press release, his installation, which also includes a digital slideshow of the 200 NFTs included in the glass print — will be the first of two of Murphy’s works that will be displayed at Middlebury. The second is a 22-foot tall sculpture named “Boonji Spaceman.” The sculpture installation is planned for spring 2022. This past summer, a resort in Antigua hosted a similar Boonji Spaceman installation. 

In an initial email response to The Campus’ request for comment, College Director of Media Relations Sarah Ray said that the college is unaware of any arrangement regarding the college and the purchased piece. Ray suggested that there may be some confusion between the college’s art center, the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts, and Mahaney’s foundation in Maine, the Kevin P. Mahaney Center for the Arts.

After The Campus notified Ray of the details of Murphy’s press release, Ray reiterated that the college has no knowledge of any arrangement regarding the artworks. 

The Campus was unable to contact Mahaney by time of press. 

After graduating from Middlebury, Mahaney won a silver medal for sailing in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Mahaney was once the president and CEO of the Olympia Companies, a real estate development firm based in Portland, Maine.

In an email to The Campus, McGraw, Founder and Curator of Nicole McGraw Fine Art, the gallery from whom Mahaney purchased the glass print, wrote that such an acquisition marked a historical moment in the art world. 

“The Future Has Not Yet Been Written is one of the first major NFT acquisitions by a museum,” wrote McGraw. “Brendan Murphy is a pioneer in the NFT space known for merging the Physical with the Digital. He is paving the way for artists to bridge these two mediums.”

NFTs are digital files connected to a corresponding ownership ledger. Theoretically “non fungible,” a record of who owns any given NFT is kept on a blockchain, the same technology that enables cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and Ethereum. As a result, many popular environmental critiques of cryptocurrency also surround NFTs.

The 200 NFTs which are included in “The Future Has Not Yet Been Written” are from Murphy’s NFT collection, Boonji Project. Similar to many NFTs, Boonji Project uses the Ethereum blockchain as an ownership ledger. According to the project’s website, the collection itself consists of 11,111 similar yet “unique” programmatically generated images of an astronaut’s suit, developed from Murphy’s “Boonji Spaceman” sculptures. 

Correction: This article has been edited to reflect the fact that Kevin Mahaney is not currently the CEO and president of Olympia Companies.

Jake Gaughan

Jake Gaughan is an Editor at Large.

He previously served as an Opinion Editor and News Editor.