The past several years in the art world have been largely denoted by the growing and seemingly unavoidable connection that cryptocurrency and NFTs were having to the industry. The terms became buzzwords across the board and the concept of them seemed almost more prevalent than art itself. While the past year seemed to see an unquestioning acceptance of this new normal within elitist circles, the volatile trajectory of crypto has been marked by a massive downturn—crypto exchange FTX has gone bankrupt and has appealed to the targets of their widespread donations, including the Met, to return their donations.
FTX is run by Sam Bankman-Fried, an entrepreneur whose value was estimated to peak at $26 billion, and who in December of 2022 was arrested in the Bahamas and extradited to the U.S. on the grounds of a veritable laundry list of fraud charges. Bankman-Fried had given donations to various institutions and politicians (generously to Democratic candidates as well as Republicans) to the tune of $93 million. FTX has since been scrambling to recover this amount in order to repay creditors.
The company had given the Metropolitan Museum of Art $550,000 in donations this year in two instalments, and the Met appears to have accepted returning these funds. In a filing at the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, it stated “The Met wishes to return the Donations to the FTX Debtors, and the FTX Debtors and the Met have engaged in good faith, arm’s length negotiations concerning the return of the Donations.”
Whether the collapse of FTX spells a larger decline for the crypto world isn’t precisely evident, it certainly highlights the instability of these partners the art world has chosen to embrace. If nothing else, perhaps it might see a distancing in the quick camaraderie between art institutions and the new money mania of the crypto wave.