Sotheby’s is to organize a record-breaking auction of 3AC’s prestigious generative art collection

Sotheby’s is to organize a record-breaking auction of 3AC’s prestigious generative art collection

Generative art has emerged as a prominent subsection of the NFT space in recent years, captivating both native collectors and high-end art enthusiasts from the traditional art world.

With its dynamic and innovative nature, the art form has found a natural home in the decentralized and programmable landscape of NFTs.

By integrating numerical code that incorporates randomness or ordered geometric patterns, generative artists are able to produce artwork that produces unpredictable results each time it is interacted with.

From Tyler Hobbs’ pioneering use of fluid field distribution physics in Fidenza, to Dmitri Cherniak’s embrace of algorithmic randomness in The Ringers, generative art is a nostalgic throwback to the spontaneity of 1940s Abstract Expressionism.

While it was once Pollock’s action painting and Rothko’s smearing rectangular brushstrokes that captivated audiences, now in the age of blockchain, the complexity of algorithms has become the source of intrigue, with irregularities still retaining their allure.

The digital realm has experienced a lack of uniqueness and an excessive appropriation of art, a trend particularly evident in the NFT profile picture (PFP) landscape, where animal-based derivative projects have saturated commonalities.

However, generative art collectors actively seek the unique. Each piece is effectively a one-of-a-kind work, symbiotically created between a human artist and a machine, offering both the unique and unpredictable result, similar to what CryptoPunks has provided for PFPs.

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Image Credit: Fidenza #216 by Tyler Hobbs / Courtesy of Sotheby’s

3AC’s digital art

On June 15, Sotheby’s will present GRAILS: Part II, a live auction in New York billed as the largest ever live auction of digital art, featuring some of the most recognized generative artists in the NFT space.

This auction will showcase a collection of 37 works, including notable pieces such as Dmitri Cherniak’s Ringers #879, colloquially known as The Goose, six works from Tyler Hobbs’ algorithmic collection Fidenza, and three CryptoPunks by Larva Labs.

Sotheby’s, the oldest and largest international art auctioneer in the world, has been actively involved in the NFT market and experienced its strongest financial year in history in 2021, with consolidated sales of over $7.3 billion.

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These record sales were driven in part by the growing popularity of NFTs and the influx of new collectors, with 78% of NFT bidders at Sotheby’s in 2021 being new customers, more than half of whom were under the age of 40.

Both GRAILS: Part I and GRAILS: Part II feature artwork previously owned by now-defunct crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital and its founders Su Zhu and Kyle Davies, with Teneo, an advisory firm acting as liquidator, working with Sotheby’s to facilitate the sale of the NFT collection

More recently, on May 19 of this year, Sotheby’s hosted GRAILS: Part I. All lots within the auction sold for significantly above the estimated price range listed by Sotheby’s, generating a total of $2.5 million from an estimated value of between $555,000 – $815,000.

Notably, Tyler Hobbs’ Fidenza #725 fetched $1.01 million, well above its estimate of $120,000 – $180,000. Private sales within this collection totaled over $6 million.

All artwork from GRAILS: Part I and GRAILS: Part II was previously owned by the now-defunct crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital and its founders Su Zhu and Kyle Davies.

After the Singapore-based firm went bankrupt in July 2022, advisory firm Teneo stepped in as liquidator in an attempt to recoup a small portion of the $3.5 billion owed to creditors by selling off the firm’s assets.

Teneo worked with Sotheby’s to facilitate the sale of 3AC’s vast collection of NFTs “to realize the value of the NFTs for the purposes of liquidation.”

ONE37pm sat down with Michael BouhannaSotheby’s Head of Digital Art and NFTs, to discuss the 279-year-old auction house’s approach to generative art, their artistic selection process and the increase in estimated auction prices.

Bouhanna, who joined Sotheby’s in 2017, has been instrumental in their entry into the NFT art market. In June 2021, Bouhanna hosted Sotheby’s first curated NFT auction, Natively Digital, which achieved total sales of $40 million across three editions.

“Generative art has always been a movement within the digital art space that really interested us”, Bouhanna revealed, “from the post-war era in the 1960s and the first artists who used computers in their creation process, to now with blockchain technology and its whole younger generation by collectors.”

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“I think with generative art we see an ecosystem that is closer to traditional art. We see both traditional art collectors who are already interested in conceptual art such as minimalism, but also a younger generation of collectors from the NFT space, he added.

In a 1974 article published in Studio International, pioneering British artist Harold Cohen speculated on the claim that machines had the potential to enhance artists’ creative purpose and process in their pursuit of computer art.

Cohen was the inventor of one of the first AI art computing programs, AARON. In its early iterations in the 1970s, the software could produce black-and-white drawings that were then plotted onto a page by a small robotic turtle-shaped device.

To today’s audience, the artistry of these drawings resembles the mindless illustrations of a toddler, but at the time, AARON demonstrated extraordinary possibilities for the future capabilities of computer technology.

“Whether the machine can serve the artist’s purpose is more redundant than unanswered”, noted Cohen. From his perspective, a future era in which modern art was the collaborative process between human hands and computer code was simply “inevitable”.

For Bouhanna, selecting a list of generative artists to showcase at Sotheby’s is a process that requires consideration of many factors.

“We’re really focused on the high end of the market, so we look at the established artists – those whose work has been collected by some of the top collectors – but then we also balance that with looking at their work: technique, process, how they innovate, which helps with the narrative of explaining the importance of the work.”

Sotheby’s generative artist list includes 20th-century pioneers such as Vera Molnár, Charles Csuri and Roman Verostko, whose works have been turned into NFTs, as well as a new generation of Erick Calderon, IX Shells (Itzel Yard), Tyler Hobbs and Dmitri Cherniak , among others.

Cherniak’s iconic piece “The Goose” will go under the hammer during GRAILS: Part II with an estimate of $2-3 million. In Bouhanna’s view, “it is not only the most famous work of art in generative art, but perhaps also in the world of digital art.”

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“It’s very hard to guess by how much, but I’m pretty sure it will exceed the estimates we’ve listed it for,” he predicted.

Canadian artist Dmitri Cherniak introduced his NFT project The Ringers to the art world via ArtBlocks in February 2021. As described by Sotheby’s, the 1,000-piece collection consists of uniquely designed representations of a string wrapped around a set of pegs.

“Cherniak’s art balances control and randomness, creating a dialogue between the artist, the algorithm and the observer,” says Sotheby’s.

Ringers #962 found a home at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after prestigious NFT art collector Cozomo de’ Medici donated 22 works of art from their Medici collection to the museum for permanent display beginning in mid-July of this year.

As for The Goose, Bouhanna believes that “it’s one of the better representations of what long-form generative art can do.” Turned clockwise, the work depicts the image of a goose, an algorithmic randomness that exceeds a one-in-a-million probability.

“It’s a piece where there’s an immediately recognizable figurative subject,” says Bouhanna, an identity that “shows the importance of the machine, the algorithm, and how it has actually surpassed the artist in this exact production.”

Image Credit: Ringers #879 by Dmitri Cherniak / Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Pre-bids for GRAILS: Part II have been open online since June 1st, with the live auction starting on June 15th. Private sales are also available.

Speaking about how Sotheby’s will define the success of the auction, Bouhanna concluded that “it has already been a success in the way we have celebrated this new movement of generative art, and with all the educational material you can find.”

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