Bored Ape art-world “scandal” involving bankrupt crypto mogul

Thursday 19th January, 2023 - Bruce Sterling

*If this example of real life in the NFT boom can even be called a “scandal.” It doesn’t seem surprising except in retrospect.


SBF and the Mystery of the 101 Apes (working title) is emblematic of the art world’s deal-with-the-devil approach to the NFT market, a golden goose cut open and killed by those seeking the source of the bullion. During the bull years—well, months, really—of the phenomenon, auction houses built up their digital art departments (Sotheby’s Metaverse, Christie’s 3.0, etc.) and even the galleries established separate wings to pump out NFT sales, most notably Pace Verso. Hollywood talent agencies hired Silicon Valley–adjacent fixers to score content deals to make movie franchises from NFT IP. In 2021, an estimated $2.6 billion in art NFTs were sold, and anyone in the art market that hopped on that gravy train seemed to be getting a cut.

And then in mid-2022 the bottom fell out. In July, crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital went belly up, leaving investors both big and small holding the bag. Genesis Capital had put billions into 3AC—all gone. Terra, a $60 billion South Korea–based crypto exchange, imploded spectacularly, causing its stablecoin, UST, to collapse and its token, LUNA, to fall from a price of $80 to pennies. And then the FTX zeppelin fire brought the crypto crisis to the front pages, causing a global sell-off of risky assets…