The Digital Innovators Reshaping the Art World

What constitutes mainstream art is changing before our eyes, thanks to art world pioneers creating, collecting, sharing and selling a growing body of works that exist on the Blockchain. There are thousands of talented women and men creating amazing art in this space working alongside dedicated collectors and platform givers to increase the visibility of and demand for generative pieces, NFTs and other digital works. Our Digital Innovators Power List celebrates ten influential operators whose high-profile contributions in this space are changing the narrative—and the flow of capital—around digital art.

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There’s no question that we’re past peak NFT. The market for those non-fungible units of data that live on the blockchain and look like darling little jpegs has fallen off significantly, much like the cryptocurrency market with which they are so closely aligned. Art NFTs (as opposed to collectibles) attained just under $1.5 billion in sales on platforms outside the art market in 2022, far off their high of $2.9 billion in late 2021. “The decline in value was much greater for art-related NFTs than other segments, and they accounted for just 8% of the value of NFT sales on the Ethereum network in 2022 (versus 67% for collectibles-based NFTs),” according to this year’s Art Basel and UBS Art Market Report

Still, there are reasons to believe that this kind of often abstract or even trippy digital art is going to be with us for some time—and not just in head shops. Late last year, the Museum of Modern Art installed the atrium work Unsupervised by Refik Anadol—a billboard-sized generative art piece that uses “a sophisticated machine-learning model to interpret the publicly available data of MoMA’s collection” that's now in the institution's permanent collection. Jerry Saltz called the end result “a crowd-pleasing, like-generating mediocrity,” and it does resemble the A.I. villain in Mission Impossible 7. Then again, Tom Cruise’s later movies have probably done more than any others to save the business of theaters. There’s nothing wrong with pleasing a crowd now and then, and Unsupervised has drawn one every time we’ve been to MoMA since its debut. 

Breakout generative artist and NFT darling Tyler Hobbs had IRL shows in London’s Unit and New York’s Pace galleries this past year. He made a pretty good debut at Christie’s (which launched an NFT platform in 2022) and claims he’s made millions of dollars off secondary sales of his work. His gallery shows feature paintings—“physicals” in NFT collector parlance—made with the help of robots, which perhaps speaks to the endurance of his market. The idea of art made by machines is unappealing to most collectors today, but many of the tech oligarchs blessed with both increasing money and increasing power in our society probably like the conceptual element of collaboration with the computer. 

But generative art is nothing new. Last year’s Venice Biennale featured the work of Vera Molnár (b. 1924), a pioneer of art made with the help of computer programs. Her work is a reminder that before algorithms ran everything, they weren’t perceived as threatening but rather a variation on the introduction of randomization to artistic process practiced by many of her contemporaries—e.g., John Cage and those in the Fluxus movement. Even digital art is not particularly new. Steve Sacks opened his gallery bitforms in 2001 to show just this kind of work. He remains well-positioned in this market, which if past its apex, is still massive compared to what it was before. 

By now, nearly everyone has taken tools like Midjourney and DALL-E for a spin, collectively discovering that even in the age of A.I., the creation and dispensation of digital art is probably something best left to the headline makers profiled below.

Refik Anadol

  • Artist

When Refik Anadol shows, the art world pays attention. His 2021 installation “Machine Memoirs: Space” was the most visited exhibition ever recorded in Istanbul. His practice, initiated in 2008, sits very much at the confluence of concerns that agitate contemporary art creation: A.I. algorithms, deep learning and the shifting role of the artist in a fast-transforming space. He considers the relationship between data points and the human experience of art-making and art-viewing. Anadol’s profile has tipped thanks to recent high-profile collaborations with Bulgari, the Grammy Awards and leading art institutions such as MoMA in 2022.

Now part of the permanent collection at MoMA, “Unsupervised” presents algorithm-generated real-time transformation on a monumental screen. Shape-shifting, Anadol's creations are hypnotic and invite the consideration of an expansive new field of “data painting” that redefines abstract forms. His trailblazing investigation of historical collections via these new technologies opens a boulevard of radically altered art history. Anadol is continuously breaking new ground. This year, he co-created a new algorithm with Amazonian artists to explore the interplay of A.I., conservation and spirituality—and there will be much more to come.

Refik Anadol. Serge Hoeltschi

Erick Calderon

  • Founder and CEO of Art Blocks

Erick Calderon's Art Blocks conducted more than $1 billion in transactions in just two years. Established in 2020, the generative art platform is used by prominent NFT creators (including blue-chip artist Dmitri Cherniak) and hosts more than 300 projects. Calderon is not worried about competition since decentralization is at the heart of crypto values; his artists do not sign exclusive contracts. He’s also optimistic about the future of next-gen art. "I'm looking forward to 2024 being the year that a broader consumer audience finds a compelling and disarming curiosity and use case for digital objects, particularly individualized or ‘1 of 1’ pieces—beyond scarcity, pure speculation or the promise of future value utility,” he tells Observer.

Calderon started collecting in 2017 and made a fortune from the sale of his Autoglyphs and CryptoPunks. He then donated a portion of the proceeds to philanthropy, with gifts to Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum and the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. He teamed up with Pace Verso in 2022 to blend traditional and NFT art by supporting boundary-pushing NFT projects from Pace and other artists (around four annually), as well as exhibitions and community programs. In a press release, Calderon described the Pace partnership as a “transformative moment for everyone in the Art Blocks ecosystem.”

Erick Calderon. Dave Krugman

Dmitri Cherniak

  • Generative NFT Artist

Canadian-born artist Dmitri Cherniak began dabbling in crypto in 2014. Through his algorithms, he engages with automation as an art form and a realm of creative possibilities. In a 2023 Sotheby’s sale, his works commanded significant attention. Cherniak even broke his own auction record. From his “Ringers” series, Ringers #879 (also referred to as “The Goose”) fetched $6.2 million, the second-highest sale ever recorded for a generative artwork. “There are an almost infinite number of ways to wrap a string around a set of pegs. On the surface it may seem like a simple concept but prepare to be surprised and delighted at the variety of combinations the algorithm can produce,” Cherniak said about that series of 1,000 NFTs. There’s line work and color and dimensionality to the pieces, which reveal influences from modern artists such as Mondrian. LACMA’s first acquisition of blockchain art was a piece from “Ringers,” cementing that there’s a future for generative art.

Dmitri Cherniak. Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for UNTOLD

Noah Davis

  • CryptoPunks Brand Lead and NFT influencer

Before joining CryptoPunks in 2022 as Brand Lead, Noah Davis headed Christie’s digital sales and directly contributed to the auction house’s breakthrough $69 million sale of Beeple’s Everydays, the First 5,000 Days (2021). Davis also used his role to educate collectors, investors and enthusiasts about digital art and the NFT market. He’s an example of how younger actors in the traditional art market use their knowledge, skills and networks to expand the digital art space. Davis, who is also an NFT artist, is putting that market know-how to use by advising CryptoPunks on institutional placements and museum donations. “We’re talking to museums from all over the world,” Davis told the Art Newspaper in April of this year. LACMA and Miami’s Institute of Contemporary Art have received CryptoPunks, and it’s just the beginning.

Noah Davis. Courtesy of Noah Davis.

Cozomo de’ Medici

  • Self-proclaimed 'Grand Patron of the Digital Arts'

Who is Cozomo de’ Medici? Maybe Snoop Dogg, maybe not. Whoever they are, they donated 22 digital artworks by 13 artists to LACMA earlier this year—the first gift of on-chain art from a collector to an institution. The donation included pieces from Cherniak’s “Ringers” series, as well as a CryptoPunk from Larva Labs. That gesture helped bring additional visibility to NFT art for non-digital natives, as well as a reason to research and contextualize individual digital artworks and collections as institutions would do for physical art.

Such a move also signals that NFT collecting is not a fad and that those in the space want to build a reputation of market robustness and credibility. Cozomo de’ Medici has kept their identity close to the vest but has operated an X account since 2021 (with nearly 300,000 followers), providing advice on NFT investing and propelling the community and the notion of a digital renaissance (hence their name) to more mainstream avenues. 2024 is shaping up to be a busy year for the mysterious collector, who tells Observer, "I’m excited to continue acquiring works from artists creating at the cutting edge of contemporary art, and bringing art to the people via exhibiting The Medici Collection in Gstaad, Los Angeles, and Lake Como."

CryptoPunk #3831. Matt Hall and John Watkinson, CryptoPunk #3831 (2017). Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the Cozomo de’ Medici Collection

Tyler Hobbs

  • Generative Artist

Austin-based artist Tyler Hobbs started his practice before the NFT craze. This longevity, combined with a rigor and interest in exploring human flaws via generative art, may explain how Hobbs has withstood the crypto winter while others haven’t. He’s drawn to the power of technology and art to investigate biases in computers and in real life. His artwork continues to attract significant attention and value on the market. In a recent Sotheby’s sale, six pieces from his “Fidenza” series fetched a total of $2.1 million, three times more than their initial estimation. From that same series, which stems from an algorithm that dynamically presents modernist curves and blocks, another piece sold for $3.3 million in 2021. His “QQL” series commands both market attention and institutional interest—some of these works were exhibited at Pace this year (under Pace Verso). Hobbs is comfortable navigating both digital and IRL spaces, transforming his NFTs into material pieces (“physicals”) and melding hand drawing with work by machines.

Tyler Hobbs. Courtesy of the artist

Sandro Kereselidze

  • Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Artechouse

Launched in 2015 in D.C. by Sandro Kereselidze as one of the first digital art galleries in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to new media, Artechouse now also has satellite spaces at the intersection of art, technology and science in Miami and New York. They offer a physical experience as well as an XR app. In a new New York City show, Artechouse partnered with NASA to immerse visitors in the depth of the universe in an installation that draws on data and physics to create unique forms of storytelling. Artechouse has organized more than 30 large-scale exhibitions and attracted more than 1.7 million visitors and app users, with more to come.

“We are on the verge of witnessing the realization of numerous incredible projects in the realm of immersive storytelling, projects that will fundamentally transform our approach to art and in-person experiences,” Kereselidze tells Observer, adding that 2024 will be “ all about innovation, expansion, collaboration and community engagement.” Artechouse has already collaborated with around 40 artists, including leading A.I. artists such as Refik Anadol, who showed his “Machine Hallucination” there before it moved to MoMA. “One of the most challenging parts of being a media artist is that our ideas sometimes do not fit in any place,” Anadol said in a statement, crediting Artechouse for providing such a home.

Sandro Kereselidze. Alyona Vogelmann

Maurice Lévy

  • Founder of YourArt, Chairman of Publicis

Maurice Lévy fundraised $10 million to launch his subscription-based digital art platform YourArt in May of this year, and it’s backed by major investors such as Sotheby’s owner Patrick Drahi. YourArt, which incorporates A.I. features, lets artists showcase their work via virtual showrooms (“Metagalleries”) and lets the user customize their own experience by creating digital museums. YourArt is also a selling platform—first rolled out in France before expansion plans that will loop in NFTs based on physical artworks and secondary market sales. Crucially, Lévy wants to offer an open platform for everyone left out by other online viewing rooms, including industry professionals and members of the public, with minimal curation. “Art business for the elite is developing very fast; I wish art access and its democratization can develop as fast,” Lévy tells Observer. Is the era of A.I.-driven collecting upon us? Maybe.

Maurice Lévy. Jérémie Nassif

Vera Molnár

  • Generative Artist

Vera Molnár pioneered the incorporation of computers and computer graphics into her art practice in the 1960s. The Hungarian artist, now 99 years old, used abstract forms and repetition early in her practice, drawing geometric shapes in the 1950s. Those shapes eventually became a language that followed specific rules to achieve a mechanical quality. With the introduction of computers and algorithms a decade later, Molnár created the Molnart software and engaged in an early artistic dialogue between humans and machines through dots, lines and other shapes. She hasn’t slowed down since. Molnár’s avant-garde work was featured in the 2022 Venice Biennial, and in 2023 she was included in Sotheby’s Gen Art Program and sale. In less than one hour, her works—including a generative art series based on the letters N, F and T in collaboration with coder Martin Grasser—sold out, fetching $1.2 million. Clearly, the legend still has much to teach.

Vera Molnár. Photo by Catherine Panchout / Sygma via Getty Images

Steve Sacks

  • Founder of bitforms gallery

Steve Sacks founded bitforms gallery more than 20 years ago. The hype around the rise of digital technology at the turn of the millennium inspired him to explore the intersection of art and technology more deeply. “Media art was not accessible or exposed as it is today,” he remembers, but he bet that screens could be the next canvases. Sacks was so much ahead of his time that he expanded his (then) Chelsea-based gallery with a presence in Seoul but quickly realized he had to consolidate first. bitforms has been at the vanguard of generative, immersive and interactive art, using technologies we now consider commonplace, such as A.I., Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Moving forward, Sacks wants to disrupt the NFT marketplace model with attention to curation and context. Thanks to his representation of artists such as Refik Anadol, Claudia Hart and Marina Zurkow, Sacks has succeeded in propelling digital art experimentation into mainstream conversations while protecting space for emerging techniques and artists.

Steven Sacks. Courtesy bitform gallery

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