Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in On Balance, the ARTnews newsletter about the art market and beyond. Sign up here to receive it every Wednesday.
At the Rainbow Room Tuesday night, the once-and-future NFT community gathered to kick off the third edition of NFT.NYC, the premier Web3 conference that has served as a barometer for the crypto market since it began in 2019.
“Frank Sinatra used to sing here, but what matters most now is the people in this room!” Matt Medved, cofounder of Web3 media company, nft now, told the crowd at the company’s NFT100 Gala, projecting a confidence undercut by the scene at the top of the Rock.
Tables were pockmarked by empty seats, while the remaining attendees talked bleakly about tax season. Meanwhile, at the open bar, the signature cocktail this year was titled “Bear Market” (Tito’s, grenadine, a twist, sloshed into a coupe glass). The party line seemed to be: Sure, things look bad now, but actually, they had always looked bad.
“Over the last 24 months everyone here has been laughed at for their choices. It takes courage to say, ‘I see something nobody else does,’” Alejandro Navia, another nft now cofounder, said from the dais. “Web3 is not just an industry but an economy that changed people’s lives. How many of you can pay your bills because of NFTs?” His speech was met by a cruel silence, before a kind of heartsick laughter bubbled through the room.The sincerity and evangelism that propelled NFT value-making had finally reached its limit. Let’s call a spade a spade.
Over the past year, NFT sales dropped 77 percent and the community has shrunk back to more or less its original composition: dedicated digital artists and true believers in crypto, with the occasional VC-type hype man present.
And, as ARTnews editor-in-chief Sarah Douglas often reminds, she knew the financial crisis had hit the art market when she got to the UBS dinner at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2008: There was no caviar.
During 2021’s edition of NFT.NYC, held in November, I spotted Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort, looking slightly haggard in the strobing lights of a party hosted by Sotheby’s and Serotonin, a Web3 marketing firm. I took his presence as validation that this oft-embarrassing beat was coalescing into something of historical importance. Perhaps, this could all be a movie someday. Rappers floated in the background at a different party, as indie-pop darling Caroline Polachek performed for the Web3ers. It was clear: the money was flowing.
Just as quickly, it wasn’t. Last year’s edition in late June may have attracted 15,000 attendees, a jump of more than 5,000, but people were on edge. By then, bitcoin had tanked to below $20,000, a far cry from its previous peak of $69,000. Still, with over 1,500 speakers set to take the stage, crypto enthusiasts put on a brave face. Hadn’t so many troubling dips in the value of crypto presaged lines on the graph that were basically parallel? Hadn’t winter come before spring? “We haven’t hit zero yet—it’s not over,” David Pakman, a crypto VC, assured the crowd during that year’s opening remarks.
In retrospect, we all should’ve known it was the end of that dazzling reign: the parties weren’t so good.
A couple weeks later, the herald of death came. Devin Finzer, CEO of the behemoth NFT trading platform OpenSea, announced layoffs. Things weren’t going to get better anytime soon and OpenSea was preparing to wait out a long winter. Finzer calculated they had enough funds to get through five adverse years.
Some places are still feeling the lost promise of crypto. During Art Basel Miami Beach this past December, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez metaphorically broke a bottle of champagne over the ship that was “The Gateway,” an NFT gallery held inside an old bank with Web3 pop-ups lining the street. He grinned into a phone that was pointed at his face, “You must come here!” Meanwhile, Web3 NYC Gallery in Midtown Manhattan, which advertised itself as the first physical Web3 store, is apparently closed.
Cynicism, irony, sarcasm––it had little place in the fraternal light of the NFT community of yore, whose motto was WAGMI–We’re All Gonna Make It. No longer. As Navia, the nft now cofounder, discovered with his ill-timed comment Tuesday night, it’s too grating to pretend that everyone is about to collectively catch a wave.
“I’m just here to get a job,” one of my seatmates, a Web3 artist, told me. Time to squeeze a few more drops of blood from this rock. — Shanti Escalante-De Mattei, reporter
Meet the Gallery Bringing Ghana’s Art Scene Global
When Marwan Zakhem founded Gallery 1957 in Accra, Ghana, he probably didn’t expect it to have an outsize impact on the country where it’s based. In fact, Zakhem hadn’t planned to open a gallery at all—he got his start constructing oil and gas storage facilities. But since the gallery opened in 2016, it has become one of the forces aiding the growth of Ghana’s art scene and one of the most important commercial spaces on the continent writ large. ARTnews contributor Gameli Hamelo reports on Gallery 1957’s humble roots and its many functions, which include not just mounting exhibitions but also facilitating an art prize and a residency program. “We did all of this to make sure they knew that this country was great and that the artists coming out of it were even greater,” Zakhem told Hamelo.
The Big Number: $120 M.
More than 30 works from the collection of storied music executive Mo Ostin, who died in July 2022, are expected to sell collectively for that amount at Sotheby’s in May. Works by René Magritte, Cy Twombly, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell will be among the top works offered.
- Galerie Nagel Draxler now represents Rhea Myers: The British artist-hacker’s work deals with technology and the blockchain. Her first show with the gallery, “The Ego, and It’s 0wned,” will be on view until April 15 in Berlin.
- Various Small Fires now represents Wendy Park: The dealer will present work by the Los Angeles–based painter in a solo booth at Independent Art Fair coming next month in New York and in a solo exhibition in Seoul in 2024.
- Brussels gallery dépendance now represents Greco-Belgian artist Danai Anesiadou: Anesiadou’s work spans performance, installation, and video. This winter, her current exhibition “D POSSESSIONS” in Brussels will travel to the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens.
- Chicago-based Monique Meloche Gallery now represents Lavar Munroe: The Bahamian American artist, who works primarily in painting and mixed media, was named one of this year’s Guggenheim Fellowship recipients.
- The Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) admits 13 new members: The New York organization will bring on Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, Canada Gallery, Eric Firestone Gallery, Gitterman Gallery, Mignoni, Ortuzar Projects, Perrotin, RYAN LEE Gallery, and Skoto Gallery. West Coast dealers joining the organization this year include Catharine Clark Gallery, Anat Ebgi Gallery, Parker Gallery, and Paulson Fontaine Press.
- New commissions by Nikita Gale, Nora Turato, Haegue Yang, and Julien Creuzet to feature in the 2023 edition of the Performa biennial: The 10th edition of the performance art–focused showcase will take place this coming November in New York.
Poet and fiction writer Ben Lerner is no stranger to the art world. In 2016, he wrote an article for the New Yorker about how the Whitney Museum handles art conservation. Last week, Lerner again included a subject of museological interest in a piece for the magazine–this time a work of fiction called “The Ferry.” The narrator, a photo archivist, attends a panel discussion entitled “Criteria for Deaccession.” At the end he makes a comment, “People need to understand the relationship between preservation and destruction, I mean, how the former must entail the latter.” In an interview about the story with editor Cressida Leyshon, Lerner says, “A work of art or a library or museum collection or any significant form requires subtraction as much as addition, right? It requires omission, deaccession, etc., not just hoarding. Endless accumulation in an ever-expanding cloud flattens everything.” – Angelica Villa, reporter