The Contagion Fever Breaks: NFTs Dominate Art Basel

The price of ether is down nearly 65% since last year’s Miami Art Week. But this year’s art fair saw an uptick in events, attendees and conversations around Web3 technologies and their road map to mass adoption.

AccessTimeIconDec 5, 2022 at 9:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Dec 16, 2022 at 9:48 p.m. UTC

MIAMI — “We were never big wedding people,” said artist Kelly Daniels after marrying health care executive Emir Muhovic during a small ceremony set up at the Scope Art Show in Miami Beach on Dec. 5.

At one of the largest art exhibitions taking place during Art Basel this year, the nuptials looked different than a typical courthouse wedding. The newlyweds, married by artist Jimmy Pierce, minted their wedding as a collection of non-fungible tokens (NFT). This includes their vows, marriage license and wedding photos built on the Flow blockchain and supported by NFT powerhouse Dapper Labs.

Pierce, the artist behind Seeds of Happiness, a digital art collection, told CoinDesk that after Daniels and Muhovic reached out to him asking to officiate the wedding, he became ordained in the state of Florida to support the couple in their wishes to get married at his exhibition.

Though it was not the first wedding to incorporate blockchain technology into its programming, the unconventional gathering of about 30 people rounded out a vibrant week of parties, panels and brand activations that focused on the intersection of art and technology. And while many in the space are still defrosting after an extended crypto winter, the wedding highlighted the generally sunny atmosphere in Miami this week, which was focused on long-term building and growth.

“NFTs, blockchain – it’s here forever, and we might as well do it with that frame of mind,” said Muhovic on the decision to enshrine their vows as NFTs. “Just like our marriage!” chimed in Daniels.

NFT wedding (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)
NFT wedding (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)

Miami’s annual Art Basel festival, now in its 20th year, connects galleries, artists and collectors to create unique artist-led experiences and bolster local art scenes. This year, the event welcomed over 76,000 attendees from 88 countries in the first week of December.

While the festival focuses primarily on fine and contemporary art, NFTs have slowly worked their way into the cultural conversation. Last year’s event showed glimpses of the physical and digital worlds colliding thanks to the hype of 2021 that led to a bull run of NFTs, while this year’s event saw them become more holistically combined, with NFT projects and blockchain companies weaving their way into galleries and events across the city.

The welcoming of NFTs into traditional art spaces comes at a time when the crypto industry has been marred by scandal and uncertainty. Over the past year, crypto ecosystem Terra collapsed, crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital filed for bankruptcy protection and one of the largest crypto exchanges, FTX, crumbled, bringing a number of companies down with it. In addition, the price of ether, which powers many NFT projects, is down 60% since the start of this year and NFT trading volume has taken a dive.

Despite this, NFT artists, builders, developers and collectors showed up en masse to support a collaborative vision for Web3.

Time Pieces dinner (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)
Time Pieces dinner (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)

On Wednesday night, Keith Grossman, who is exiting his role as president at Time Magazine to become president of crypto payments firm Moonpay, hosted a dinner to celebrate Time Pieces, an NFT collection honoring historical moments from the 99-year-old publication’s history.

At the dinner, crypto executives, NFT artists and Web3 thought leaders gathered at the National Hotel to not only to celebrate Grossman’s crypto career pivot, but also to inspire forward thinking about the future of the space.

At the dinner, Miami's mayor, and crypto innovator, Francis Suarez addressed guests and encouraged them to keep creating despite chilly market conditions.

“When we’re creating, there are going to be car crashes. But it’s wonderful to have a network of people who are here supporting you, have incredible knowledge of this nascent technology and are going to pave the way for the future,” Suarez told the crowd of about 100 people.

During the dinner, Dave Krugman, photographer and founder of creative agency Allships, told CoinDesk that 2022’s art week differed from last year in that it emphasized the passion that builders in the space continue to show.

“In a market where everyone can win and everyone can make a lot of money, there's not a lot of conviction there,” said Krugman. “We're starting to wake up to the fact that this next layer of the internet is here to stay, and brands are coming in, despite the market conditions.”

Allships hosted networking brunches over three days in partnership with CoinDesk and blockchain ecosystem Near that brought together creative minds and shapers in the Web3 space. Megan Kaspar, managing director of crypto investment firm Firstlight and founder Web3 fashion house of Red DAO, told CoinDesk that despite current market conditions that cast a shadow over festivities, the volume of Web3-focused events paired with high attendance for those events was a positive sign.

“The morale of the community is really high right now, which is great to see especially with the collapse of FTX and crypto winter and all of the things that our space is going through from the downside perspective. There’s a lot of upside coming,” said Kaspar.

Metaverse Fashion Week brunch (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)
Metaverse Fashion Week brunch (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)

Kaspar hosted a Metaverse Fashion Week brunch in Miami, bringing together the leaders shaping the digital fashion industry such as Nico Fara, founder of The Fashion DAO community; Julien R., head of growth at digital fashion company DRESSX; and Aurelia Ammour, CEO of NFT sneaker company SHOES 53045.

“Last year, when I hosted the event, about half of the people who attended this year showed up,” said Kaspar. “More people are aware of digital fashion and the opportunity it provides not only to the crypto ecosystem, but to the actual fashion industry as a whole. It’s great to see the two worlds merge.”

Shiva Rajaraman, vice president of Product at OpenSea, also shared positive insights into how the NFT market is evolving through market waves, particularly when it comes to discussions on utility and long-term value of the digital assets.

Rajaraman told CoinDesk that while last year’s NFT hype cycle centered on self-expression and community affiliation, the injection of utility into projects is shaping a new narrative that “bleeds into the digital world and the physical world.”

“You have a lot of projects talking about logistics now, and how can I unlock an NFT and get a T-shirt, a bag, access to a real-world event,” said Rajaraman. “People are starting to get more sophisticated about that business model.”

Ape Water (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)
Ape Water (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)

It’s likely we’ll start to see more of these use cases pop up as people begin to explore how to integrate NFTs far beyond their value as just collectible items – including, it appears, as a tool for memorializing weddings.

Amanda Cassatt, CEO of Web3 marketing firm Serotonin, told CoinDesk at NFT Now’s immersive Gateway activation in downtown Miami that the energy at Art Basel further emphasized the importance of firms embracing these technologies as they build out their products.

“It’s time that every brand has their Web3 strategy,” said Cassatt. “I think every company is going to become a Web3 company, and the bear market is the perfect time to build and start working on that.”


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Cam Thompson

Cam Thompson was a news reporter at CoinDesk.