An auction of generative non-fungible tokens (NFTs) brought in nearly $11 million yesterday (June 15) at Sotheby's, signaling a rising market for digital works that combine algorithms and A.I. with visual art.
Breaking a record for the most valuable live auction of digital art, the collection was previously owned by the now-bankrupt crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital. All the lots sold, with more than 50 percent of bidders under the age of 40. In combination with Sotheby’s first auction of the fund’s collection in May and a subsequent private auction, proceeds from sales of the fund’s NFTs now total at $17 million.
Canadian artist Dmitri Cherniak’s Ringers #879, from his 1,000-piece Ringers series, topped the lot at $6.2 million, while the $635,000 sale of Snowfro’s Chromie Squiggle #1780 (Perfect Spectrum) set a new auction record for the artist. The record-breaking results “reflect the growing importance of digital art, and in particular generative art, as a critical form of contemporary art,” said Michael Bouhanna, Sotheby’s head of digital art and NFTs, in a statement.
Tyler Hobbs, ostensibly the brightest star in the generative art movement, saw notable rises in value for his lots. Six pieces from his Fidenza series sold above their estimates for a total of $2.1 million, with his Fidenza #479 piece realizing $622,300—more than three times its high estimate of $180,000. Hobbs is one of few NFT artists who has managed to stay high-profile and continue racking up million-dollar sales after the crypto crash. The artist, who claims he’s made millions off secondary sales of his work, recently starred in exhibitions at both Manhattan’s Pace Gallery and London’s Unit London.
Why is Tyler Hobbs’ work rising in value?
The Austin-based artist started creating generative artwork long before the NFT craze and its subsequent fall in sales. After earning an undergraduate degree in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin, he started working as a programmer for Apache Cassandra, a database management system. But Hobbs, who had always been interested in art, eventually began exploring more creative approaches to coding.
Although he’s largely considered a pioneer of generative artwork, the artist believes the genre can be traced back to the 1960s, “mostly on early science and military computers,” according to his website. Developing and programming algorithms that then randomly generate hundreds of visual images, Hobbs focuses on how computation aesthetics combine biases of computer hardware and the human world surrounding it. “The generative analysis of drawings reveal that even the ‘human’ flaws in our work have patterns and structure,” reads Hobbs’ website. “What can the machine capture and reproduce about those flaws, and what differences will always remain?”
The artist’s Fidenza series has been a standout project for Hobbs, with NFTs from the collection commanding six-figure prices. One of the pieces was purchased for $3.3 million in August of 2021, while another sold for $1 million at Sotheby’s in May. Three Arrows Capital reportedly spent nearly $5 million on Fidenzas after the project launched. Created in 2021 by a computer algorithm, the project consists of 999 generated NFTs based on “flow fields,” which refers to the distribution of the density and velocity of a liquid over space and time.
Another generative art collection by Hobbs that continues to attract big money is QQL, which he created alongside generative artist Dandelion Wist. In December, the project sold $17 million in “mint passes,” that allowed holders to co-create and eventually own their own NFT through QQL
Hobbs’ success can be attributed to his combination of both digital and physical artwork, making his exhibitions and shows more accessible to galleries and art collectors. He often turns his NFTs into physical pieces, sometimes by commissioning pigment prints of digital works at fine-art printing shops. Hobbs also occasionally uses a plotter, which is a robotic device that creates a drawing based off a set of instructions, sometimes combining the plotter’s drawings with paintings done by hand.