Overall NFT trading volume has fallen 97% from its peak in 2021, but the crypto art horizon can lay claim to one bright spot: support and the generative art market.
On December 1 at Art Basel Miami Beach, form is in the spotlight at the Tezos and Fxhash exhibition, “Performance in Code: Deciphering Value in Generative Art”. Emerging generative artists such as Ivona Tau and Tyler Boswell will be featured, and visitors can create their own generative NFTs.
The exhibition follows the opening of Refik Anadol’s solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where generative art receives a major museum showcase. The artist’s latest data-driven architectural installations are on display, created by capturing data from MoMA’s own archives – from photographs by Hans Haacke to paintings by Cézanne and Van Gogh – into a code that generates waves and shapes geometry based on chance.
Such institutional recognition follows respectable, albeit cautious, market interest. Throughout 2022, major auction houses Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s held generative art sales, with the latter’s April auction bringing in a total of $2.3 million. Art Blocks, the platform founded by Erick Calderon (aka Snowfro) that has been largely responsible for popularizing generative blockchain art, has also performed remarkably well, despite the crypto bear market: its market capitalization in September 2022 exceeds $841 million.
But while generative art may hold up in the struggling NFT market (its plunge recently fueled by the spectacular crash of FTX), the recent mainstreaming of AI technology could herald new changes in the field.
Generative art emerged as early as the 1960s, driven by pioneers like Vera Molnár and Herbert Franke, who used systems-based design thinking to design random and iterative works. The form has found new life on-chain with practitioners such as Snowfro and Dmitri Cherniak deploying creative coding and algorithms to generate moment-to-moment variations of a smart contract.
“What these artists all have in common,” said collector and art adviser George Bak, is their “unwavering devotion to chance and control, a kind of cybernetic serendipity.” According to Bak, who held a generative art auction at Phillips earlier this year, the form remains one of the least understood and least appreciated genres in new media art. While the market may be slow to embrace generative art, he added, institutions may not.
But lately, the emergence of AI generators such as OpenAI’s DALL-E has made generative art accessible and even acceptable. For Janek Simon, the Polish artist whose Synthetic folklore project has seen him use AI to reinvent various ethnic traditions, new AI models are a game-changer.
“There are at least two eras in generative art: before and after AI,” Simon told Artnet News, pointing to AI programs like GIVE HIM, Mid Roadand Asynchronous art, which he experienced. But WWhat makes AI art interesting, he added, aren’t just projects that use glitches and outdated features. If you really want to get into AI and generative art, you need to learn to code.
Being on the cutting edge of technology, generative artists like Simon are also hesitant to see AI as a threat to human creativity or art. “It would be super hard for the AI to come up with an idea like putting a urinal on a pedestal,” he said, referring to Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 ready-made, Fountain.
Cherniak, whose latest collection of generative art was created in partnership with the estate of László Moholy-Nagy, echoed that sentiment. “I think we live in an increasingly technical world, with increasingly powerful technological tools, and humanity will always show some form of creativity,” he told Artnet News. . “It makes perfect sense to me that these tools, as they become more accessible and the general public becomes more tech-savvy, use automation and code for creative purposes.”
With or without market interest, it seems, the field of generative art is advancing rapidly, aided by a plethora of new tools and software. In addition to Anadol’s showcase at MoMA, Pace Verso, the Web3 arm of Pace Gallery, has recruited a host of high-profile generative artists through its partnership with Art Blocks. Most recently, in October, the duo released Loie Hollowell’s first NFT project, a set of 280 generative sculptural abstractions.
These developments, along with an institutional push, could likely pave the way in the longer term for digital art and NFTs. “The machine offers opportunities to find new forms of expression that the artist adjusts according to his vision,” said the curator of digital art. Aleksandra Artamonovskaja. “For some the machine is like the paintbrush, while for others the token is the medium – the canvas of creation.”
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