NFT.NYC Was Calm, but Side Events Stirred Drama

While the annual conference saw fewer attendees in a chilly NFT winter, the real “magic” – and drama – of the Web3 gathering happened outside the main convention.

AccessTimeIconApr 17, 2023 at 5:08 p.m. UTC
Updated Apr 17, 2023 at 5:19 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconApr 17, 2023 at 5:08 p.m. UTCUpdated Apr 17, 2023 at 5:19 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconApr 17, 2023 at 5:08 p.m. UTCUpdated Apr 17, 2023 at 5:19 p.m. UTC

NEW YORK — NFT.NYC 2023 brought the heat to Manhattan.

The three-day-long flagship non-fungible token (NFT) conference took place as temperatures ranged between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, uncharacteristically hot for mid-April.

The main programming took place at New York City's Javits Center, a convention venue on the west side of Manhattan where over 6,000 attendees flowed through the glass doors. Sponsored by companies including layer 2 blockchain Immutable, non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace OpenSea and Amazon Web Services, event partners hosted galleries, metaverse exhibitions and lounges for degens to do their networking.

While 2023’s event used a single location (unlike NFT.NYC 2022’s scattered approach, which had programming in seven venues in Times Square), the Javits Center felt empty despite the 1,300 speakers on eight stages over three full days.

From programming covering such topics as NFT regulation, intellectual property (IP) gaming, fashion, health and the metaverse, the content of the event itself seemed to mature as Web3 has become synonymous with the emerging industry of tokenized assets.

Stepping out of the air-conditioned building onto the sunny roof of the Javits Center, looking over the Hudson River, it felt as if the blazing sun wasn’t penetrating into the panels and sessions inside the glossy building.

Javits Center roof (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)
Javits Center roof (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)

But the heat was real, begging the question, where did the surge in NFT energy across NYC really come from? The answer – the side events.

Yat Siu, chairman of Web3 gaming and venture capital firm Animoca Brands, told CoinDesk in an interview immediately following an event he hosted that although NFT.NYC itself may have not been well attended, the side events fueled the energy of the week.

“All of these events bring people together,” said Siu. “The actual excitement happens in all sorts of restaurants and bars, and other people you connect with and so, I think that's really the magic.”

But although the true value of the conference may, as in past years, be found in the events scattered around New York City, NFT.NYC was also characterized by the drama that emerged from these side events, both from real-life parties in the city as well as online activities and crypto Twitter.

NFT Now Gala celebrates 100, but one sparks controversy

The hours that followed Web3 publication NFT Now’s release of the NFT100 list on April 11, a list recognizing the biggest names in the NFT space, were joyous for the creators, collectors, builders and influencers featured. Everyone named on the list, holders of its loyalty token the Now Pass and other guests were invited to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center for the NFT100 Gala, which CoinDesk was invited to attend.

Matt Medved, Alejandro Navia and Sam Hysell at the NFT100 Gala (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)
Matt Medved, Alejandro Navia and Sam Hysell at the NFT100 Gala (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)

Drinks flowed, artists and executives caught up and attendees cheered as Matt Medved, CEO and editor in chief of NFT Now, lauded the audience for its persistence in fighting through a tough year for Web3.

However, less than a day later, NFT Now said it was removng one of the names from the list due to an infraction of the publication’s editorial guidelines.

“We aim to be a positive force in the space and we are committed to not encouraging harassment, so we are not naming this individual here per our editorial guidelines,” NFT Now wrote in a tweet. “Interested individuals can learn who was redacted and why by visiting the site.”

Upon visiting the site, it’s obvious the individual was Nicole Benham, founder and CEO of media company Beyond the Interview. Benham’s photo was removed and the word “redacted” follows her name. An editor’s note on her profile explains that “it has been determined they violate our criteria.”

The Wednesday following the gala, Benham posted a Twitter thread explaining her involvement in what appears to have been a pump-and-dump scheme. Tuesday afternoon, Benham promoted the free mint of NFT collection Blocky Doge 3 created by Dogecoin creator BillyM2k, featuring pixelated profile pictures (PFP) of the iconic Shiba Inu dog.

As she hyped the collection on Twitter spaces, she dumped 220 of the 250 Blocky Doge 3 NFTs she owned. According to data from OpenSea, the collection’s average price lost half of its value in 24 hours.

“There were mistakes made in a wallet that I controlled,” said Benham in a tweet. “How the last 24 hours went down was not cool and I’m doing my best to rectify the situation.”

Benham received backlash from followers for not only her actions, but the language surrounding her “apology” – which noted she never said the word “sorry.”

Betty, the creator of popular NFT collection Deadfellaz, said in a tweet that NFT Now’s choice to single out Benham was “discriminatory,” and that many other names on the list have participated in the same behavior that forced Benham to be removed from the list.

“There is nowhere in this statement that I say the behavior is correct or right or justified,” said Betty. “I’m saying apply it to all if it's going to be applied.”

Sotheby’s reboots glitch art auction following outcry

On Thursday, the long-awaited, tumultuous Sotheby’s “glitch art” sale finally went live for the public during NFT.NYC, this time with more diverse artists included.

Sotheby’s original glitch art NFT auction was set for the end of March and called “Natively Digital: Glitch-ism,” and featured work from digital artists XCopy, Luis Ponce, jakethedegen and others.

However, immediately after the collection launched, it was taken down after a lack of diverse representation was called out by both the featured artists and others in the glitch art community.

NFT artist Patrick Amadon, who was featured in the original sale, pulled his work a day after the sale went live due to the lack of female-identifying artists represented in the collection.

“Representation is important. Inclusivity is important,” said Amadon in a tweet. “It's critical that we build this movement correctly since everything we do now not only affects our community today, it will affect thousands on thousands of future artists that inherit what we've left them.”

Sotheby’s announced the new collection, “Glitch: Beyond Binary,” to better showcase the diverse artists who have contributed to the glitch art movement. The new collection, curated by glitch artists Dawnia Darkstone and Dina Chang, incorporates works from female artist Ina Vare, non-binary artist Sky Goodman and many others who deserved representation in the sale.

“In co-curating Glitch: Beyond Binary, I aspired to present an eclectic ensemble of exceptional artists, each with their distinct vision and approach to the realm of glitch art,” said Darkstone in a tweet. “My selection was driven by a desire to reveal the multifaceted nature of this genre.”

Sotheby’s plans to open the sale on April 19.

Bored Apes slip as a whale’s fortune fails

It was perhaps a good thing that NFT behemoth Yuga Labs decided not to host its annual Ape Fest, an event token-gated for Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) holders, at the same time as NFT.NYC this year.

On April 13, the floor price of the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection slid to a five-month low of 55.59 ether (ETH), or about $116,00.

What happened? Twitter user “Franklinisbored,” a noted BAYC whale, sold at least 37 of his apes according to data from OpenSea. He cited “liquidity issues,” and the need to pay off loans on NFT lending platform BendDAO, prompting him to sell his tokens.

He later shared that he was scammed out of 2,000 ETH, about $4.2 million, in what he said was a “casino gambling [P]onzi.”

“Please learn any lessons possible from this,” said Franklinisbored in a tweet.

Adam Clegg, studio design director at Web3 gaming company Liithos and active Bored Ape holder told CoinDesk that NFT markets aren’t mature enough to handle whales making such large trades, thus contributing to collection values tanking so drastically when one person sells.

“In traditional finance, or even with larger cryptocurrencies like bitcoin or [ether], two retail investors could never swing an entire market like that,” said Clegg. “I think that people need to understand that when you’re investing in NFTs you’re taking on a large risk and personal responsibility of keeping them safe.”

As of writing, the Bored Ape NFT floor price has fallen to 54.91 ETH, about $114,000.

Despite crypto winter, there’s still warmth for NFTs

The 10 months that followed NFT.NYC 2022 couldn’t have been worse for crypto.

Between the fall of crypto lenders Celsius Network and Voyager Digital, the explosion of leading exchange FTX, and the most recent banking crises of Signature Bank, Silvergate Bank and Silicon Valley Bank, events have made liquidity low across the cryptocurrency market. Add in growing regulatory scrutiny and general economic uncertainty, and the vibe had definitely shifted from 2022.

Although last year’s conference immediately followed a sharp collapse of ETH, energy was still high among attendees. NFT collections Pudgy Penguin and Cool Cats owners attended token-gated parties, marketplace Magic Eden hosted a yacht party and Yuga Labs hosted its first Ape Fest. Madonna even performed at an event hosted by the World of Women NFT project.

While this year’s side events were less lavish in comparison, they still had plenty of attendees flocking to events all over the New York metro area.

Palm NFT x Pussy Riot event (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)
Palm NFT x Pussy Riot event (Cam Thompson/CoinDesk)

From artist Beeple’s event with NFT collective Proof in Brooklyn celebrating the new Moonbird Diamond collection, to Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova’ and NFT platform Palm DAO’s “Call for Feminist Art” celebration in Soho, to Steve Aoki’s performance at the Animoca Brands and Sandbox party in Midtown, NFT.NYC wasn’t shy of parties and people sharing their enthusiasm and plans for Web3. The big drama and fun simply mainly occured away from the Javits center, as we’ve seen in year’s past.

Edited by Toby Leah Bochan.


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Cam Thompson

Cam Thompson was a news reporter at CoinDesk.