The NFT craze has sparked renewed interest in generative art, art created autonomously through computer programming or coding. But Phillips’ online sale dedicated to the medium, which ended yesterday July 20, reflected how negatively the art market was impacted by the cryptocurrency crash in June.
‘Ex-Machina: A History of Generative Art’ grossed a total of £854,028 ($715,871), less than a quarter of its low estimate of £4.1 million ($4.9 million) and only a sixth of its high estimate, £5.2 million ($6.2 million). Only 20 lots out of 44 were sold, and several of them fetched prices below the low estimate. Older physical works and recent NFTs were on offer at the sale, which ran from July 11-20.
“The estimates were made before the state of the crypto market changed,” Benjamin Kandler, project manager for digital art at Phillips, told Artnet News. The exhibition is open to the public [in London] until August 5th, and we have ongoing discussions with collectors about the aftermarket, especially as the market has recently returned to a healthier state.
Although the selloff was disappointing and revealed the volatility of the generative art and NFT markets, a few coins did well. The best batch was that of the Texas artist Tyler Hobbs Fidenza #61a hit NFT on June 11, 2021 which consists of bending fuchsia stripes of different widths and lengths on a black background; the coin exceeded its estimate by £80,000 to £120,000 ($143,242) and fetched £302,400 ($354,923).
Then come the 0xDEAFBEEF Series 5: Advection – Token 22, minted June 29, 2022: The black-and-white audiovisual piece is composed of ever-changing wavy lines and electronic music created through computer coding and algorithms. It sold for £252,000 ($300,992), within the range of the £200,000 ($238,850) to £300,000 ($358,270) estimate it carried.
In terms of physical labor, the standout lot was (Ordersa unique piece made up of nine abstract and geometric designs that French artist Vera Molnar, a pioneer of computer-generated art, created in 1974. It sold for £100,800 ($128,980), just exceeding the estimate £80,000 ($95,540) to £100,000 ($119,420).
However, well over half of the lots failed to attract buyers, including four works by Canadian artist Dmitri Cherniak from the series Ringtones who were to lead the sale.
Works dating from 1969 to 1970 by Vladimir Bonačić, the Croatian computer scientist and cybernetician, were among the other victims – Bonačić’s computer-generated photographs and a Dynamic object made from 256 orange bulbs and the same number of square aluminum tubes did not sell. In contrast, works by generative art pioneers Herbert W. Franke and Gottfried Jäger from the 1950s to 1970s sold for low five-figure sums, within or just above their estimates.
Bidders and buyers came “from the United States, Europe, Asia, the United Arab Emirates, India, Australia and elsewhere,” according to Kandler. “These [buyers] range from those in the more traditional realm of 20th century and contemporary art to the watch collecting community and, of course, crypto-native customers, some of whom were new to Phillips,” he added.
The sale, which endeavored to trace the history of generative art from pioneers such as Molnar, Franke and Jäger to generative artists NFT Snowfro and Cherniak, was billed by Phillips as the first of its kind.
“You have to experiment when establishing new markets, and generative art stands as an important movement in recent art history that is receiving increasing attention,” Kandler said. “We took a historical approach, seeking to establish the true originality and significance of included artists, some of whom were creating generative art in the 1950s.”
However, it was Sotheby’s New York that actually organized the first sale on this theme in its “Natively Digital 1.3: Generative Art” in April this year. Featuring 15 lots, it was a white glove sale with tame results, grossing $2.3 million against a total estimate of between 2.3 and $3.5 million A comparison between the two selloffs shows just how much the market has turned in the space of three months in the wake of the cryptocurrency crash.
There, it was a vibrant abstract work by Cherniak that was the most notable lot, selling for $882,000, below its $1-1.5 million estimate. A kinetic, color-saturated work combining multiple images by Argentinian artist Manolo Gamboa Naon also sold for less than estimate, fetching $352,800 (from an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000).
In addition to NFTs, the Sotheby’s sale included historically significant metaphysical pieces by the American artist Roman Verostko who were inspired by British mathematician Alan Turing’s conceptual description of a machine capable of performing any type of algorithmic mathematical calculation.
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