auctions

These Six Works Available in the Midnight Publishing Group Auctions Sale ‘ArtNFT: Beginnings’ Are Redefining Generative Art


Generative and Artificial Intelligence art might sound like something straight out of a science fiction film. However, the idea that an artwork can be created by a machine, devoid of the human hand, or created by autonomous and algorithmic systems, isn’t far-fetched at all. For the past six decades, artists have been experimenting with technology, creating computer art, media art, video art, and digital art, and eventually tokenizing artworks on the blockchain.

Now, Midnight Publishing Group’s first NFT auction, “ArtNFT: Beginnings,” is centered on the historical trajectory of digital art and its touch points with the development of NFTs. Read on to learn about seven artists, including Dmitri Cherniak, Vuk Ćosić, and Georg Nees, who have been at the forefront of Generative and A.I. art movements, and whose works are live for bidding through December 21 in “ArtNFT: Beginnings.”

 

Dmitri Cherniak
Ringers #887 (2021)

Dmitri Cherniak, Ringers #887, (2021). Available now in “ArtNFT: Beginnings” on Midnight Publishing Group Auctions. Est.: 70-90 ETH ($272,000-349,000).

“Automation is my artistic medium. Hand coded goods,” Dmitri Cherniak has written. On January 31, 2021 the Canadian artist made a splash with the launch of his “Ringers” project on Artblocks, a program that hosts generative content on the Ethereum blockchain.

The series, which is capped at 1,000 unique NFTs, is based on the premise that there are an almost infinite number of ways to wrap a string around a set of pegs. “Ringers” are a computer-generated algorithmic series, created from Javascript code, and each work has its own unique transaction hash. Minimal in their aesthetics, “Ringers” are valued for qualities such as peg count, sizing, layout, background, wrap orientation, wrap style, scaling, body color, peg style, and extra color. Ringers #887 has a woven wrap style and a solid-filled black body which accentuates its visually striking, angular pattern. Notably, Ringer #109 sold for 2,100 ETH ($6.9 million at the time), making it the most expensive Art Blocks NFT sold to date.

Cherniak got his start in crypto in 2014, and while he has been probing the implications of blockchain-based generative art for years, it was not until 2019 that he began sharing his own work, remaining dedicated to algorithmic diversity in his practice.

 

Vuk Ćosić
Deep ASCII (1998)

Vuk Ćosić, Deep ASCII (1998). Available now in “ArtNFT: Beginnings” on Midnight Publishing Group Auctions. Est.: 12-15 ETH. ($46,600-$58,300).

Slovenian artist Vuk Ćosić is best known for his role as a founding pioneer of net.art, an internet art movement that started in 1994, and for his early application of encoding technology to visual graphics. Ćosić seeks to sidestep the traditional methods of creating art by utilizing the digital sphere, however he emphasizes that the most high-tech technologies need not be applied. This artistic approach drove many of his projects, including the ASCII Art Ensemble, which features various moving images and videos in the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) characteristically formed by numbered coding patterns.

Emblematic of Ćosić’s pioneering spirit, Deep ASCII is an NFT conversion of his 1998 work of the same title, which depicts a scene from the pornographic film Deep Throat rendered in ASCII. 

 

Kevin and Jennifer McCoy
Quantum Leap (Primordial Star 2) (2021)

Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Quantum Leap (Primordial Star 2) (2021). Available now in “ArtNFT: Beginnings” on Midnight Publishing Group Auctions. Est.: 40-60 ETH ($155,374-233,060).

Quantum Leap by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy is the longest-term generative artwork, evolving over a three year cycle. The code-based NFT is inspired by the artists’ 2014 work Quantum, the first ever artwork to be tokenized on the blockchain. 

Constantly moving through changing states, the NFT draws upon art-historical and scientific theories to evolve and spawn new versions of itself in real time, multiplying in a manner akin to the current ecosystem of social and technological innovation. Fast-paced and unpredictable, the work’s title refers to a physics theory that strives to answer questions about the initial phases of the universe. 

Primordial Star 2 is the second from a series of eight unique tokens which involve layers of code-based systems that interact to produce an expanding mandala-like digital animation, inspired by the consistently shifting life cycle of stars. Over the token’s three-year cycle, it will spawn offspring—new stars and descendant tokens that will possess their own parameters and unique visual rendering software patterns. 

 

Quayola
PP_F_024_2 (2015-21)

Quayola, PP_F_024_2 (2015-21). Available now in “ArtNFT: Beginnings” on Midnight Publishing Group Auctions. Est.: 8-12 ETH ($31,000-$46,600).

Italian artist Davide Quayola sees technology as complementary to classical religious iconography and traditional landscape imagery. Most often referred to as Quayola, the artist works with many mediums, including audiovisual performance, video, sculpture, and works on paper. PP_F_024_2 is an NFT that draws inspiration from Impressionism and suggests a new understanding of the natural world through collaboration with technology. The work is an algorithmic composition that blends opposite realms: nature and technology, representation and abstraction, and, ultimately, the human and machine. 

Inspired by the work of Vincent Van Gogh, Quayola visited the countryside in Provence some 130 years after the Dutch artist to capture some of the same iconic natural compositions. Quayola uses custom software to transform his source videos into algorithmic animations resembling real paint. PP_F_024_2, for example, was generated by the analysis of ultra-high-definition videos. 

 

Pindar Van Arman
Emerging Faces (2020)

Pindar Van Arman, Emerging Faces (2020). Available now in “ArtNFT: Beginnings” on Midnight Publishing Group Auctions. Est.: 60-80 ETH ($233,000-$310,800).

Pindar Van Arman is an American artist, roboticist, and pioneer of digital art. Van Arman has been building robots for use in his artistic practice since 2015, and he has programmed software applications such as CrowdPainter, bitPaintr and CloudPainter. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) software, Van Arman’s robots hold a brush and paint patterns directed by an algorithm. 

 A pioneer of digital art, Pindar Van Arman is an American artist and roboticist. Van Arman has been building robots for use in his artistic practice since 2005 and has programmed CrowdPainter, bitPaintr and CloudPainter. All based on Artificial Intelligence software, Van Arman directs his robots to hold a brush and paint a pattern directed by an algorithm. 

Emerging Faces is the product of a collaboration between Van Arman and Robert “3D” Del Naja, a British street artist and a member of the electronic band Massive Attack. This work—an NFT accompanied by a physical work—combines Del Naja’s signature style with Van Arman’s technical coding abilities. A.I. layered the textures and colors of Del Naja’s paintings to create a composite idea of its dominant characteristics, as an exploration of facial recognition software. 

 

Desmond Paul Henry
#287 (1963)

Desmond Paul Henry, #287 (1963). Available now in “ArtNFT: Beginnings” on Midnight Publishing Group Auctions. Est.: 2.5-3 ETH ($9,700-$11,700).

Desmond Paul Henry is among the greatest pioneers in early computer art, now critically digested as a paramount predecessor of Generative art. In the 1960s, he constructed three mechanical drawing machines, with technology based on the analogue bomb-sight computers used during World War II aircrafts. Inspired by the “peerless parabolas” of the computers’ inner mechanisms, Henry attempted to recreate the mechanical motions using biro pens, tube pens, ink pens to create abstract, curvilinear, repetitive line drawings on paper.

#287 is a physical artwork, created by one of Henry’s drawing machines in multi-colored biros on paper.

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Christie’s Top Brass Just Broke Down the Auction House’s Earnings. Here’s How Lucrative the First Half of 2021 Was


Christie’s pulled out all the stops today, July 13, with a high-profile line-up of far-flung executives for a virtual call to announce the results of its wide-ranging business activities in the first half of 2021.

The total sales for the first six months of the year amounted to $3.5 billion, making it the auction house’s second-best half-year total in the past six years, and exceeding the 2019 equivalent by 13 percent.

Executives noted the significance of an influx of buyers and intense demand from Asia (which accounted for 39 percent of the value of auction sales worldwide), as well as the auction house’s plunge into sales of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) this year. They also highlighted how a recent spate of marathon hybrid sales have helped provide solutions for challenges ranging from Brexit to international coronavirus restrictions.

“After a year of COVID-related disruption and change, Christie’s strong results in the first half of 2021 show the resilience of the art market and Christie’s ability to adapt and to innovate in a challenging context,” CEO Guillaume Cerutti said on the call. 

Auctioneer Adrien Meyer fields bids during Christie's 20th Century evening sale in New York in May 2021. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd. 2021.

Auctioneer Adrien Meyer fields bids during Christie’s 20th Century evening sale in New York in May 2021. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021.

The house said private sales for the first half were just north of $850 million, an increase of 41 percent as compared with 2020, with a 30 percent increase in private sales of works above $5 million as compared with first half of 2020.

Global head of private sales Adrien Meyer said the strength was somewhat surprising given that the strong uptick last year—238 percent over first half of 2019—was clearly connected with the lack of physical auctions.

“It’s quite reassuring that the trend has continued as auctions have picked up,” he noted.

Asia has played a major role in the robust performance, as reflected by the reported $1.04 billion “in live and online purchases” made in the first half, which Christie’s said is the highest spending from the region in at least five years. And Hong Kong auctions at Christie’s Asia for the first six months achieved $495 million, up 40 percent over the first half of 2019.

Christie’s also reported a total of about $93 million in NFT sales, while conceding that the lion’s share, $69 million, was paid for the offering of Beeple’s The First 5,000 Days in March.

Beeple, Everydays – The First 5000 Days NFT, 21,069 pixels x 21,069 pixels (316,939,910 bytes). Image courtesy the artist and Christie's.

Beeple, Everydays – The First 5000 Days NFT, 21,069 pixels x 21,069 pixels (316,939,910 bytes). Image courtesy the artist and Christie’s.

Asked about where NFT buyers are emerging from, Marcus Fox, global managing director of postwar and contemporary art, said the Beeple auction “brought over 400 new clients to Christie’s from a wide cross-section of the globe,” he said, citing bidders from Asia, Europe, and the U.S.

While subsequent NFT sales have varied as far as participation rates, Fox said, they have tended to draw more new than existing clients, but with a similar geographic breakdown: a third each from Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

Christie’s COO Ben Gore added that roughly 85 percent of the payments for the NFT totals had come in the form of cryptocurrency. Christie’s initially began by accepting Ethereum at the time it offered the Beeple work, but is now accepting Bitcoin for some lots.

“We are, to a degree, directed by our clients,” he said. “Whether they wish to accept crypto will influence how [we] think about bringing this form of payment into the rest of our business.” 

Even as executives talk about a return to IRL auction salerooms, they praised the flexibility of the hybrid auction model. Christie’s vice chairman Giovanna Bertazzoni noted that it allowed the auction house to place a major Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painting in the Paris leg of a marathon sale that would otherwise have never made it to London because of Brexit restrictions.

Further, specialists from countries such as Italy who could not go to London because of COVID restrictions could still get to Paris and bid on behalf of their clients there.

“This collaboration with Paris and all the fluidity with the other selling sites in Europe has been vital for us gathering and selling the sales throughout the first six months,” Bertazzoni added.

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The Back Room: A Macro View of the Spring Auctions


__________________________________________________________________________________

2. For Blue-Chip Standbys, the Auction (Mostly) Happens Before the Auction

The presale period is when the houses field third-party offers to assume the risk (and upside) of the guarantees they’ve made to consignors. Once those back-room competitions play out, there’s seldom much demand left for the salesroom anymore.

At Christie’s, solid (if not spectacular) works by Gerhard RichterChristopher Wool, and Richard Prince sold to their guarantors with no outside resistance—often well beneath their low estimates. (Katya Kazakina’s latest column dug into these works and others consigned to Christie’s by private equity titan Thompson Dean.) In total, 16 of the 39 works in the sale were guaranteed, and most were backed by third parties.

In Sotheby’s contemporary segment, a classic Cy Twombly “blackboard” painting barely crept within presale estimate range by hammering at $36 million on one bid to its backer. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Versus Medici hammered below its $50 million presale expectation. (Fees pushed it to $50.7 million.) Incidentally, nine of the 32 lots to reach the rostrum in this portion of the evening were guaranteed, with seven of the nine backed by third parties. (Two works were withdrawn presale, further reducing the drama.)

Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern sale, largely defined by uneven bidding and few fireworks, counted 14 guarantees—11 of which had third-party backing.

The point: Many works seen as reliable stores of value (but not much more) are likely to be more in demand behind the scenes than in front of them anymore. This week’s sales did little to dispel that notion.

As Dealers Look to Reinvent Their Businesses, German Gallerist Johann König Is Hiring an Auctions Expert to Steer His In-House Fair Model


In a sign of further hybridization of the art market, Galerie König in Berlin has announced a revamped 2021 edition of the in-house art fair that it piloted last year. To oversee the weeklong sale of primary and secondary market works, the gallery has appointed an auctions expert to the helm.

Lena Winter has now joined the gallery as the director of the event, dubbed Messe in St. Agnes (“messe” is both the word for fair and church service in German). Her expertise flows from the German auction world, where she served as head of the contemporary art department at Ketterer Kunst in Munich, one of Germany’s leading auction houses. She previously worked at Lempertz and Grisebach auction houses.

The 2021 fair will run May 2 through 9 this spring at a converted brutalist church that the gallery operates as an exhibition space (hence the pun). The dates overlap with Gallery Weekend Berlin, which takes place as a two-part even this year, with its first chapter running from April 29 to May 2 this year (the second event will take place in September focused on more emerging and underrepresented positions).

Messe in St. Agnes. by Roman Maerz.

2020 Messe in St. Agnes. by Roman Maerz.

“In auction houses, prices are more transparent and so there is less anxiety around for new clients entering the art market,” Winter told Midnight Publishing Group News. “We want to take this approach, and have transparency be one of the main aspects of the fair in St. Agnes. We want things to be democratic.”

This year’s edition of the fair will be a tidied up version of the salon-style concept that it debuted last year, in May and September. This time around, works will be curated into different thematic sections: abstract expressionism, figuration, and “young contemporary” are a few placeholder ideas that are in the making. Winter said the gallery is creating a specialized architecture to better accommodate the viewing experience.

When Messe St. Agnes was first launched last spring, it was met was a mix of both gratitude by some and friction with other dealers in the city. “It’s always difficult for people to adapt to new formats and the mix of primary and secondary markets,” said König. “But we need to all find new niches in our own regions.”

Both Winter and König share the conviction that the art market needs to hybridize its various sectors, the gallery and auction worlds, and continue to innovate. “You have to open the borders between the primary and secondary market, because they need each other,” said Winter. “The one market is not anything without the other.”

She adds that the relationship between the primary and secondary markets was marked by “misunderstanding” for a long time, as well as a fear of that primary dealers had of auctions due to the transparency of sales.

The gallery may be the first in Germany to fully embrace such a path. Still, this blurring of categories is also occurring online this month with VEZA, an online selling event organized by Goodman Gallery that focuses on highlighting selected works by dealers in the Global South. And auction houses, for their part, have been leaning more on private sales, while also trying out new concepts, such as Christie’s primary market sale “Say It Out Loud,” which was organized by dynamo curator Destinee Ross-Sutton.

“The pandemic sped up a process that was already necessarily transforming,” said Winter. “It is not possible for a gallery to simply grow by only having their 20 or so artists anymore.”

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