Total NFT trading volume has fallen a staggering 97 percent since its peak in 2021, but the crypto art horizon can claim one bright spot: the generative art medium and market.
On December 1st at Art Basel Miami Beach, form will be 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 will be able to shape their own generative NFTs.
The exhibition follows the opening of Refik Anadol’s solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where generative art is receiving a major museum exhibition. On show are the artist’s latest data-driven architectural installations, created by feeding data from MoMA’s own archives — from photographs by Hans Haacke to paintings by Cézanne and Van Gogh — into a code that generates random waves and geometric shapes generated.
Such institutional recognition follows respectable, if cautious, market interest. All year 2022, big auction houses Christies, Phillips and Sotheby’s have held generative art auctions, with the latter’s April auction raising a total of $2.3 million. Art Blocks, the platform founded by Erick Calderon (aka Snowfro) and largely responsible for popularizing on-chain generative art, has also performed remarkably well despite the crypto bear market, with its September 2022 market cap exceeding 841 million U.S. dollar.
But even if generative art could survive the flagging NFT market (its collapse was recently fueled by FTX’s spectacular crash), the recent proliferation of AI technology could herald further shifts in the space.
Generative art emerged as early as the 1960s, led by pioneers like Vera Molnár and Herbert Franke, who used systems-based design thinking to develop random and iterative works. The form has found new life in the chain, with practitioners like Snowfro and Dmitri Cherniak employing creative coding and algorithms to generate variations with each smart contract minting.
“What these artists all have in common,” said George Bak, a collector and art consultant, was their “unwavering devotion to chance and control, a kind of cybernetic chance”. According to Bak, who organized a generative art auction at Phillips earlier this year, form remains one of the least understood and least appreciated genres of new media art. While the market has been slow to embrace generative art, he added, institutions have not.
But more recently, the advent of AI generators like OpenAI’s DALL-E has made generative art newly accessible — and even acceptable. To the Janek Simon, the Polish artist, whose Synthetic folklore Project saw him use AI to reinvent different ethnic traditions, the 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 DALL-E, Occasionallyand Asynchronous Art, with which he experimented. But whyWhat actually makes AI art interesting, he added, “isn’t just projects that use glitches and cheesy features. If you really want to get into that, AI and generative art, you have to learn how to code.”
Generative artists like Simon, who are attuned to the cutting edge of technology, are also reluctant to view AI as a threat to human creativity or artistry. “It would be super difficult for AI to come up with an idea like putting a urinal on a pedestal,” he said, referring to Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Readymade. Spring.
Cherniak, whose latest generative art collection was created in collaboration with the László Moholy-Nagy estate, echoed this sentiment. “I think that we live in an increasingly technical world with increasingly powerful technological tools, and humanity will always exhibit some form of creativity,” he told Artnet News. “It makes perfect sense to me that as these tools become more accessible and the general public becomes more technological, they would use automation and code for creative purposes.”
With or without market interest, it seems, the field of generative art is evolving rapidly, aided by a plethora of new tools and software. In addition to Anadol’s presentation at MoMA, Pace Verso, the Web3 arm of Pace Gallery, is recruiting a variety of top generative artists through its partnership with Art Blocks. Most recently, in October, the pair released Loie Hollowell’s first NFT project, a series of 280 generative sculptural abstractions.
These developments, along with an institutional push, could likely pave a longer-term path for digital art and NFTs. “The machine offers opportunities to find new forms of expression that the artist adapts based on their vision,” said the digital art curator Aleksandra Artamonovskaya. “For some, the machine is just like the brush, while for others the token is the medium – the canvas for creation.”
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