Last Updated on August 14, 2023

I’d been lurking on NFT Twitter for months, curious about the digital art scene and what the hype was all about. Art Basel Miami Beach was being billed as the next big festival on the NFT world’s calendar.

Intent on seeing the numerous digital art exhibits planned at locations around the city, I convinced my photographer that we had to do this. As luck would have it, I found myself with event invites just for holding NFTs for certain projects. Seizing the moment, off we flew on the redeye from San Francisco to Miami.

Going to Miami Beach for Art Basel was a lark, really. I hadn’t planned it. But NFT Now was hosting The Gateway in downtown Miami where Rug Radio’s dynamic Founder and Co-CEO Farokh Sarmad would hold a special reveal event to announce a new project, and the pseudonymous grand digital art patron Cozomo de Medici offered his Medici Minutes readers an invite to a fancy champagne reception at The Ritz-Carlton’s Bagatelle. The International SCOPE Art Fair enticed, as well as side events galore. I was buzzing with anticipation.

The Gateway Web3 Metropolis at the Alfred I DuPont Building

The first item of order was heading straight to The Gateway’s “Web3 Metropolis,” taking over two square blocks of prime downtown Miami real estate. Rug Radio’s Reveal Event would be at 5:00 pm sharp. Rug Radio is a Web3 Media company running daily podcast shows around the clock from every continent covering NFTs, digital art, culture, and developments in Web3.

Founded in 2021, watching Rug Radio grow is akin to witnessing Ted Turner and the early days of CNN during the advent of cable news in the early 1980s, in a different niche.

Farokh (one of NFT Now’s 100 Top movers and shakers in 2023) had hinted at a mysterious announcement about the fast-growing brand’s next move. He revealed an ambitious new Profile Picture, or PfP project, a move that would allow Rug Radio’s followers to buy into a unique collection of 20,000 avatars, identifying themselves as backers of the project.

Called Faces of Web3, the collection comprises artwork by the hot young artist Cory Van Lew, who dedicated six months to hand-creating the elements that would go into each unique piece when the project went live. It was an auspicious moment.

The historic Alfred I DuPont Building served as a main hub for The Gateway, and besides the reveal event, it was a stellar venue for exhibiting digital art. Some of the top works by the most prominent and innovative digital artists in the world were on display along the DuPont’s gilded hallways. Of special note was an old bank vault that was magic as you stepped into its blue light to view modern classics by XCOPY, Sam Spratt, Claire Silver, and Fvckrender. In the next room, immense displays showing off works like Zancan’s “Lush Temples” and Tyler Hobbs & Dandelion’s “QQL” were a huge crowd pleaser.

WHAT IS AN NFT, WHAT IS WEB3 AND WHY SHOULD YOU PAY ATTENTION?

A nonfungible token (NFT) is a unique digital asset on the blockchain that can never be replicated. But I’d learned that NFTs are not just a tokenized asset. Many are innovative works of digital art. Other NFTs are full-scale, substantive projects with staff, dedicated and enthusiastic communities, and cooperative governance mechanisms behind them.

Web3 is the next evolution of the Internet where we use digital wallets instead of emails and passwords to log in and verify identities, and to pay for things.

For example, Rug Radio has various NFTs associated with it, but it’s a global media company. Their NFTs earn you various rewards, including $RUG token. Learn more here. On a different note, DC Comics is having their community vote on aspects of the first-ever digital Batman Comic Book, digitizing their comic book archive into NFT collectibles, and offering their NFT holders’ access to things like events and movie discounts. Rum brands are in on the act. So is Bugatti, with a high-end digital collectible that comes with a physical piece. Holding NFTs also acts as a ticket of sorts.

You might get a deep discount to a conference, or access to a special event. Or a movie or concert. Nonprofits, real estate, and fashion are using NFTs and they are in the future of our driver’s licenses.

In short, NFTs and Web3 are making their way into mass culture with a variety of use cases. It’s worth taking some time to learn about what they are and what they’re opening up for the future. Rug Radio’s daily GM Web3 podcast is a great way to learn.

Art Basel Miami Beach

Ebony G Patterson, Love Is… Basel
Ebony G Patterson, Love Is…, Art Basel Miami Beach 2022 © Tony Hennessey

Art Basel Miami Beach was celebrating its 20th year in 2022!

Nearly 300 premier galleries from 38 countries showcased outstanding modern and contemporary artists in a variety of mediums, with 25 notable newcomers joining the party in this edition. Exhibits featured photography, video, paintings, film, sculptures, digital art, large-scale installations, and more.

This was my first large-scale art show and I loved the interactivity and hustle and bustle. It was humbling to be amongst such creative genius. Art Basel was nevertheless quite formal and organized.

The fair was wonderfully international. My favorite artists and works included a striking rose marble sculpture by Harlem-based multidisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers. Represented by Monique Meloche, Apollo 2022 symbolizes the interplay between Africa and Europe, mythology and antiquity. It sold right out of the gates at Art Basel.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Anton Kern Gallery presented painter Brian Calvin’s highly stylized works, showing his roots in sun-drenched California.

Tishan Hsu’s huge piece, “Spa,” brought to us by Miguel Abreu Gallery, was an aching tribute to the eight people gunned down in a mass shooting targeting 3 Asian spas in Atlanta in 2021.

Awol Erizku’s “Nefertiti: Miles Davis” was one of the most striking works—a huge bust of this famed Egyptian Queen, covered in a mosaic of tiny golden mirrors. This glittering work quickly found a home in the Cleveland Art Museum.

The star-studded Art Basel fair encompassed most all of Miami Beach and into the Miami Design District, with side events, treasure hunts, and parties galore. Street art had its place in the sun at the Basel House Mural Festival where the hottest street artists from around the globe live-painted. HIVE Wynwood, in its seventh year, was a hot spot for cocktails, culinary creations, and art.

Champagne Reception at Bagatelle Miami at the Ritz-Carlton

The champagne reception at Bagatelle at The Ritz-Carlton rounded out my Thursday evening agenda. It would be hosted by W1 Curates, 33NFT, and the beloved and respected digital art patron Cozomo de Medici. Determined not to miss this event, my photographer and I showed up at 5pm sharp, as the doors opened.

I knew it was a risk, of course. Unlikely, even. All I had was my subscription to Cozomo’s Medici Minutes digital arts newsletter with his open invite. The gal at the door took our names, said we weren’t alone in asking, and went to work her magic. To our delight, she returned with a positive response, inviting us in.

The reception and accompanying digital art auction aimed to help transition traditional Art Basel collectors into the digital art scene. Large horizontal panels on the walls showcased scrolling digital artworks by top creators, while champagne and spirits flowed and stylish guests networked and mingled. And true to form, Cozomo had, with his democratizing ethos, made the event accessible to his adventurous newsletter readers.

Floating Pixels by Art Innovation Gallery

Another “don’t miss” event was Art Innovation Gallery’s Floating Pixels. It was a way for 90 brilliant digital artists to join forces on Miami’s waterways. Maxi-LED walls mounted on floating barges showcased some of the world’s top works of generative, AI, and digital art. The barges moved to various points around the area over the course of three nights.

I weaved through Friday evening stop-and-go traffic to make it in time to catch the show’s opening at Miami’s Bayfront Park. The displays were mesmerizing—a stellar way to showcase this novel art form. Massive horizontal images scrolled across screens while the barges rotated slowly and floated to and fro.

We gazed on as the colors grew more vivid against the falling darkness. The exhibit gave free access to great works of art, demonstrating the great beauty and innovation that digital art has to offer. This was not a cold, robotic experience, the warmth was palpable and the event brought people together, drawing frequent “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” from the assembled crowd.

SCOPE Art Miami Beach

Ken Nwadiogbu, Journey Mercies Scope Art
Ken Nwadiogbu, Journey Mercies, Scope Art Miami Beach 2022 © lizard brain productions

The moment I walked up to the Exhibition Hall at SCOPE Art Miami Beach, I was completely taken. Set right on the white South Beach sand against turquoise blue waters on Ocean Drive, SCOPE contained a lineup of experimental contemporary art and artists every bit as exciting as its physical location. I soon discovered just how accessible everyone was, from the curators to the artists to the crowd, a truly enriching experience.

SCOPE Art Miami Beach featured more than 150 diverse exhibitors in a long, spacious hall. The main Atrium highlighted the “New Contemporary”—daily multidisciplinary programming including music, panel discussions, and fascinating interactive installations like Jen Lewin’s bespoke “Chandelier Harp.” Signature artist Ken Nwadiogbu’s impressive piece, the large-scale “Journey Mercies,” was a social commentary evoking the humanity of people who find themselves forced to migrate.

Along with the serious business of selling art, SCOPE was straight up fun for the public to enjoy. You didn’t have to be a millionaire. The fair shows how important art can be as part of your daily existence, how these expositions can be communitarian, not just for collectors, private houses, and hushed museum settings.

Here, art interspersed with relaxation lounges, drink bars, and interactivity. (The ORIGIN Lounge was a terrific spot to pop in for a quick sparkling or still water, gratis, and stay hydrated). In the mornings, guided meditation on the beach soothed the soul, and evenings brought after-parties with global musical talent.

I had so many favorites! There were Thandiwe Muriu’s rich African fabric-inspired fine art paintings, Brayden Bugazzi’s psychedelically-colored pop art, Lucio Carvalho’s fantastical creations. Maria Laura Ribeiro’s mixed media on canvas paid homage to women in culture, art, and politics.

A most unexpected set of works were Max Zorn’s wildly creative tape art. Painstakingly placed strips of different colored packing tape meld together into stunning vintage “paintings.”

A Change in Perspective

Claire Silver, The Floating Pixels
Claire Silver, The Floating Pixels © Tonya Hennessey

This somewhat spontaneous trip totally changed my perspective on art, sparking a deeper appreciation and passion.

I loved the interactive aspect of the shows, especially SCOPE. I was impressed by the efforts that digital artists and patrons made to integrate into the fabric of the greater Art Week Miami that encompassed Art Basel. I saw how major art events like this can contribute to a city’s greater cultural vibrancy. And I know I just scratched the surface.

NOTE: Visitors to Miami Beach and Art Basel for 2023 from outside of Florida should be aware that the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for the state noting, and warning, that under its current governor, Ron DeSantis, Florida has “engaged in an all-out attack on Black Americans, accurate Black history, voting rights, members of the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, and free speech, while simultaneously embracing a culture of fear, bullying, and intimidation by public officials.”

Author

  • Tonya Hennessey

    Tonya Hennessey is a freelance writer and non-profit professional who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, and grew up in the Minneapolis, Minnesota metro area. Early travels awakened her astonishment at the world’s varied cultures, landscapes, and, of course, food. She’s now marrying a passion for travel with her love of the written word. Food tops the list of Tonya’s writing interests, with cultural and sustainable travel right behind.