Robert Alice Is Behind the First Collection of Generative Art NFTs at Christie’s

The London-based crypto art pioneer recently published a major art historical study of the origin and evolution of NFTs.

A colorful abstract artwork featuring letters

Sample Output, Robert Alice, SOURCE [ON NFTs], 2024. © Robert Alice, All Rights Reserved

Since Christie’s launched Christie’s 3.0, a platform for selling NFTs on Ethereum’s blockchain, in 2022, the excitement around non-fungible tokens has cooled considerably. In the first half of that year, the non-fungible token market peaked at somewhere between $21 and $26 billion, but by the end of the year, the NFT market had all but crashed—analysis of NFTScan data showed that 95 percent of NFTs were suddenly worthless or close to it. NFT trading volume in 2023 was less than half of what it was the year prior.

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In 2024, the narrative has been decidedly mixed, with crypto- and business-focused media outlets reporting everything from a strong and steady recovery of the collecting market to an exponential rise in NFT pricing to the inexorable death of NFT art. Yet there’s nothing but optimism in the tight knit community of collectors who produce and trade in NFTs—these artists and art enthusiasts believe in the power of non-fungible tokens to revolutionize the art market, month-over-month volatility be damned. Furthermore, they firmly believe that NFTs will take their place in art history canon.

Institutions are helping to establish NFT’s legitimacy in art—the Center Pompidou in Paris owns NFTs by Robert Alice, Claude Closky, Fred Forest, John Gerrard, Agnieszka Kurant and Jonas Lund, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has works by Pindar Van Arman, Claire Silver, Justin Aversano, Cai Guo-Qiang, Neil Strauss, Monica Rizzolli and Adam Swaab—but it’s the aforementioned crypto art pioneer Robert Alice who is laying the foundation of their place in history with his book On NFTs published by last month Taschen. Topping out at 600 pages, On NFTs profiles 100 digital artists from thirty-two nations and is the first major art historical study of the origin and evolution of non-fungible tokens as digital art.

A book covered in letters with a metal slipcover
‘On NFTs.’ Edited by Robert Alice. Publisher: Taschen, 2024 . © Mark Seelen / Courtesy Christie's

Today (March 12), Christie’s and Taschen will auction off Alice’s “SOURCE [ON NFTs]”—the auction house’s first-ever on-chain, generative art collection—on the Christie’s 3.0 platform using the traditional Dutch format that’s somewhat incongruently become the standard in the digital art world. The collection of 400 generative digital paintings by Alice was inspired by his work on On NFTs and created using a complex bit of technology that starts with a Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithm capable of analyzing source material (science fiction, 7th-century Chinese philosophy, crypto art manifestos) to generate new text and ends with color fields made of layered text fragments that are sometimes legible, sometimes not.

SEE ALSO: What Art Collectors Should Know About the Changing Lifetime Gift Tax Exemptions

The resulting digital paintings “distill the inherent chaos and fragility of history,” according to Alice, as well as insights into NFTs that he found especially meaningful while working on On NFTs. “First, NFTs when stripped to their bones are just text. Whether an on-chain work or a hyperlink, text is current and currency that creates and secures NFTs,” he said in a statement.

“Secondly, blockchains are the latest breakthrough in the history of publishing and so it was this dance, between the importance of text to NFTs and the disruption of blockchain to publishing, that has been the guiding inspiration and philosophical backdrop to both ‘SOURCE [On NFTs]’ and the book itself.”

A colorful abstract artwork featuring letters

Sample Output, Robert Alice, SOURCE [ON NFTs], 2024. © Robert Alice, All Rights Reserved

Alice’s book will play a starring role in the “SOURCE [On NFTs]” auction, which will open for bidding mid-morning. Christie’s has partnered with Taschen to offer the first ten buyers to mint one of the digital paintings in the auction one of the rarest and earliest edition numbers (1 through 10) of the ‘Hard Code’ version of On NFTs, which features a stainless steel slipcase and has been signed by the artist.

Robert Alice Is Behind the First Collection of Generative Art NFTs at Christie’s