While the world struggles to gauge the value of NFTs as art, tokenized works are finding their footing in the traditional art scene. Just a week after the Museum of Modern Art debuted its NFT Postcard collaboration with artists like Dmitri Cherniak, Kim Asendorf and IX Shells, the institution announced its acquisition of Refik Anadol’s Unsupervised – Machine Hallucinations – MoMA (2022). The massive digital installation, which has been on view at MoMA for more than 50 weeks, is the first tokenized artwork in the museum’s permanent collection.
With the acquisition, which was made possible through a joint gift from the RFC Collection, led by Pablo Rodríguez-Fraile and Desiree Casoni, and tech entrepreneur and digital art collector Ryan Zurrer, MoMA joins several other notable institutions that have added tokenized artworks to their collections.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, for example, has a collection of digital works by artists like Pindar Van Arman, Claire Silver, Justin Aversano, Cai Guo-Qiang, Neil Strauss, Monica Rizzolli and Adam Swaab—most of which were donated by the mysterious Cozomo de’ Medici. The Center Pompidou in Paris has NFTs created by Claude Closky, Fred Forest, John Gerrard, Agnieszka Kurant, Jonas Lund and others in its collection. Miami’s Institute of Contemporary Art owns CryptoPunk 5293.
“[Pablo] and I decided early on that this work belongs in the MoMA, to be shared with the massive crowds that have come to be inspired by Refik’s vision,” Zurrer said in a tweet, adding that he is “optimistic that more digital works, AI art & NFTs will find their way into the MoMA’s collection over time.”
Unsupervised – Machine Hallucinations – MoMA is essentially a real-time A.I. fever dream. Anadol’s algorithms interpret a data set encompassing the museum’s digitized collection and generate continuous undulations of textured color (Unsupervised’s primary output) that have captivated museum visitors since the twenty-four-foot-square installation was unveiled in November of last year.
For all its popularity, however, Unsupervised has also attracted some rather harsh—and frequently entertaining—criticism. R.H. Lossin, in a must-read article for e-flux that references Cold War activities by the CIA, called the piece a “carbon-intensive screensaver” that produces “waves of Dippin’ Dots.” Jerry Saltz, writing for Vulture, described it as a “glorified lava lamp.”
Whether painting with data will ever be on equal footing with painting with paint in the cultural consciousness is clearly still up for debate, but institutional acknowledgment could go a long way toward cementing A.I. art’s eventual legitimacy.
“Seeing the positivity and interaction and having a show at MoMA, I wasn’t expecting this level of engagement,” Anadol, who recently applied his unique brand of generative art to James Dolan’s Sphere in Las Vegas, told Observer in an interview. “MoMA is for us, as a studio, a whole different canvas that opened up a different dimension. I don’t think the work we do there represents me, it’s a representation of the whole generative A.I. artwork space. And that’s really powerful.”