Sotheby’s Gen Art Blockchain Program Shows Technology Is Taking Over Art

Sotheby’s is moving. The same art auction house behind several recent non-fungible token (NFT) sales has just moved into the Met Breuer’s former Madison Avenue building, and on July 26, it’s launching an on-chain Gen Art program powered by generative art platform Art Blocks.

A sale of NFT by the first algorithmic artist Vera Molnár will baptize the program. She worked with artist and coder Martin Grasser to produce Themes and Variations, the sale’s series of 500 unique generative works. Overall, it “expresses the seamless integration of letters as pure abstract forms,” ​​a statement reads, “as well as Molnár’s affinity for embracing disorder.”

“Sotheby’s Gen Art program is powered by Art Blocks Engine,” Art Blocks Founder and CEO Erick Calderon told Cointelegraph, “which provides access to Art Blocks’ smart contracts and rendering infrastructure for partners to create their own generative projects.”

Vera Molnár, Themes and Variations, randomly generated essay workshop, 2023. Source: Molnár

“All sales from the Gen Art program will be entirely on-chain and in ETH only,” Michael Bouhanna, head of digital art and NFTs at Sotheby’s, told Cointelegraph. “With the integration of the Art Blocks engine, the Gen Art program will mark our first digital art auctions to be held exclusively at ETH. Since Sotheby’s metaverse was fully on-chain in May when we announced our new secondary market, it felt like a natural progression for us to start exploring more sales options that can be fully on-chain,” he added. Last week’s announcement also came a few days ahead of a Web3 summit at Christie’s.

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Art Blocks has already collaborated with heavyweights of traditional art such as the New York gallery Pace. The platform connected to Sotheby’s last fall “but didn’t immediately have a project in mind,” Calderon said. “It appeared that [Art Blocks] The engine would be a perfect fit to build their [Sotheby’s] generative art platform after committing to work with Vera Molnár earlier this year.

Sotheby’s will stage this inaugural sale as a Dutch auction for the first time in the house’s 300-year history. Art Blocks has historically used this model on its platform. Unlike a more traditional auction, where prices start low and go high, prices at a Dutch auction start high and go down. The first bid wins the lot, so there are no dramatic bidding wars here. Sotheby’s says the model introduces new psychology. The ceiling price for works in this week’s Molnár sale is 20 Ether (ETH).

Vera Molnár, Themes and Variations, randomly generated essay workshop, 2023. Source: Molnár

Through high-level strategic partnerships, Art Blocks has built a business strong enough to withstand the noted volatility of NFTs. Sotheby’s, meanwhile, turned the downfall of one of crypto’s biggest institutions into huge profits. This spring, he held a series of auctions of Three Arrows Capital’s legendary NFT blue chip collection, which shattered estimates.

Most notably, Dimitri Cherniak’s Ringers #879 “The Goose” — which debuted at auction with Phillips last summer — sold for $6.2 million, despite its high estimate of $3 million. Many take these estimates with justified skepticism, but Cherniak’s work has proven to be the second most expensive digital art ever sold. “Editions of the same series sold for less than $200,000 each moments later,” Forbes pointed out.

The financial successes this spring showed that the time had come to launch the Gen Art program, Bouhanna said. “We held our first auction dedicated to generative art in April 2022, and given the strong results of this sale, it was clear that collectors could see the historical lineage of generative art and why it is so important not only to digital art but to contemporary art.

“The Gen Art program will open up many new opportunities for us, namely the ability to now work directly with leading artists to present exclusive new sales,” he continued.

The initiative also extends the home’s growing Web3 presence. Specifically, this program will focus on the elevation of long-running generative art – large series of works from a central algorithm.

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Calderon believes respect for the medium is growing rapidly in the art world: “Part of this is because blockchain technology itself is taking over the content that is being created. […] We will see less and less talk about the technology behind generative art and more and more about the art itself.

“After decades of exploring how systems and computers can generate artistic productions, I see this collaboration with Sotheby’s and Art Blocks as the culmination of those efforts,” Molnár herself said, “offering a new way to generate novel and unique abstract forms that are defined by the controlled randomness of machine programming – the essence of the algorithm.”