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Sotheby's presents first ever auction dedicated to Generative Art, spanning early 1960s computer art to NFTs of today
Chuck Csuri, Face of Change.

NEW YORK, NY.- In the 1960s, a new avant-garde emerged, one that was developed alongside the rise of early computer technology, which disrupted the established artistic order: Generative Art. More than 50 years later, the prescient and pioneering work by those artists, chiefly Vera Molnár, Chuck Csuri, and Roman Verostko, has provided the foundation for the digital artists at the forefront of the digital art and NFT movement.

In the latest iteration the Natively Digital NFT sale series, Sotheby’s will present the first ever auction dedicated to Generative Art, showcasing the history of the generative art movement from its founding in the 1960s to the artists pushing the movement forward today through a curated selection of works celebrating the revival of generative art in new forms on the blockchain. The sale was curated by Anne and Michael Spalter, Sofia Garcia, and Itzel Yard, and spotlights the many women artists associated with the movement.

Natively Digital 1.3: Generative Art is a hybrid sale that will offer both NFTs and physical works, and in addition to the works by the pioneering artists Molnár, Csuri, and Verostko, who will have their very first NFTs offered in the sale, the auction will also feature works by leading contemporary generative artists Dmitri Cherniak, Tyler Hobbs, IX Shells, Manolo Gamboa Naon, Anna Ridler, Pindar Van Arman, Iskra Velitchkova, Sofia Crespo, and Anne Spalter.

Natively Digital 1.3: Generative Art will be open for bidding via from 18 – 25 April, with an exhibition at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from 19 – 24 April.

Vera Molnar, 2% de désordre en co-operation #01, 2022. Estimate $100/150,000.

Natively Digital 1.3 Auction Highlights

Vera Molnár

Vera Molnár, considered by many scholars and historians to be the world’s first female digital artist, began her career in the mid-1940s, and already established a body of conventional work when she began creating computer art.

1% de désordre (estimate $15/20,000) is a rare early plotter-based work, which is emblematic of Molnar’s computer-based works. The composition is randomly generated on the basis of 250 squares (5 columns x 5 rows of 10 squares) of which the computer randomly selects 3 squares that will not be printed. The works of this series, representative of Molnár's long-term systems approach, rarely appear on the market.

For Molnár's very first NFT, 2% de désordre en co-operation #01 (estimate $100/150,000), which was conceived on the occasion of her 98th birthday, she has developed an innovative performative protocol to create a series of NFTs that once again display her powerful creativity and wit, deftly merging human and artificial intelligence.

From a grid drawn on paper made up of 100 squares, a first square of the grid is filled in by a random visitor to the artist’s studio. The guest freely chooses the first square and the color (with the exception of black). A second square of the grid is then filled in by the artist who chooses a position in the grid inspired by the first intervention, and the artist always chooses the color black. Among the series of grids obtained by this new generative process, only fourteen are retained by the artist based on their visual impact, in what Molnár has referred to for many years as a “visual event.” These fourteen grids are transformed into unique NFTs and stored as immutable immaterial digital works on the blockchain. The paper versions of these compositions become irretrievably non-transferable and are held indefinitely in the artist’s archives.

Dmitri Cherniak, The difference between the subtleties and the subtle ties. Estimate $1/1.5 million

Dmitri Cherniak

Noted for his extraordinarily successful breakthrough project “Ringers,” released on the Art Blocks platform in February 2021, Dmitri Cherniak's work has had an enormous impact on the field Generative Art and its acceptance by the larger art world.

Trained in computer science, Cherniak’s work investigates automation in visual art through generative algorithms—he produces his artworks with custom software—and was inspired by both traditional artists, such as Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky, as well as generative ones, including Vera Molnár and Manola Maon (both also featured in this auction). Firmly believing that both the code and its output are creative productions, Cherniak’s work both celebrates the beauty of the technical side of his practice as well as the final aesthetics it produces.

For The difference between the subtleties and the subtle ties (estimate $1/1.5 million), Cherniak developed an interactive visual framework for creating works using a physics-based simulation of cell division. Within this unique environment, Cherniak experiments to develop the final visual results of the generative algorithm. The resulting large-scale physical print buzzes with energy and a barely contained dynamism, and the lot will also include an NFT version of the work.

Chuck Csuri

Regarded as the father of computer art, Chuck Csuri’s pioneering developments in the field began in the 1960s and was instrumental in advances in the history of computer art and technology as he experimented with everything from plotters to canvas and screen prints, numeric milling machine sculpture, holograms, animation, and recently NFTs.

On offer in the sale is a unique example of one of Csuri’s most important images, the iconic Sine Curve Man (estimate $50/70,000). A rare and award-winning piece of computer history, featured in countless texts on the history of digital and generative art, it is the first artist-created figurative computer artwork, and perhaps the first avatar. With its simple lines and dropping visage, the work continues to eloquently evoke our very first encounters with digital visual technology.

Also on offer is the artist’s only self-authorized NFT, Face of Change (estimate $20/30,000). Although Csuri recently passed way a few months ago, he was still exploring the frontiers of this medium as he approached 100 years of age. Like the Sine Curve Man, Face of Change presents a face that is in motion with infinite potential while simultaneously compressed within the virtual space of computation. Alive and thoughtful, yet with a certain darkness, this self-portrait is a Rembrandt for the digital age. The NFT is accompanied by a metallic print on canvas signed by the artist.

Roman Verostko

Computer art pioneer and co-founder of the Algorists, Roman Verostko began creating unique generative works in the 1970s. Turning to monastic life at Saint Vincent Archabbey in 1950, and ultimately ordained as a priest in 1959, Verostko acquired a deep understanding of philosophical syllogism and logic argument through his monastic studies, which would provide the foundation for his approach to computer art.

Manchester Illuminated Universal Turing Machine, #22 (estimate $10/15,000) is part of one of Verostko’s most important bodies of work, the Illuminated Turing Machines, a series of deeply metaphysical plotter drawings inspired by Alan Turing’s conceptual description of a machine that can perform any type of algorithmic mathematical calculation. Drawing on his theological and philosophical backgrounds, Verostko pairs the binary code for such a machine with an artistic depiction of the universe of things it cannot compute. In this work, Verostko creates a modern version of a Medieval biblical text, radiating an aura of authority and embodying the spiritual struggle of transcendent existence.

In Universal Turing Machine Self Portrait, Version F0.UTM, c. 1999 (estimate $10/15,000), Verostko based this series of works on Alan Turing’s seminal text, On Computable Numbers (1936). Turing’s paper outlined a procedural method for deciding all “decidable” statements and ultimately identifies the concept underlying all of computing, now ubiquitous within global society. F0.UTM is a variable work that has taken several forms since the webpage first went live in 1999, including versions of the source code that are no longer supported by contemporary browsers, altered rates of movement, and distinct changes in background and font color. Verotsko envisioned that these variables would continue to evolve and shape the work beyond his lifetime.

IX Shells, Beyond Recognition. Estimate $200/300,000.

IX Shells

Inspired by the female icons of the mid-century generative art scene such as Lillian Schwartz, Murial Cooper, and Vera Molnár, Itzel Yars, known as IX Shells, is one of the most celebrated generative artists working today, and was recently ranked #11 on Fortune’s 2021 “NFTy 50.”

On offer is Natively Digital 1.3 is Beyond Recognition (estimate $200/300,000), which will be offered as an NFT and the very first physical print offered by the artist. Beyond Recognition is influenced by Yard’s fascination with structure and patterns, and the formal quality of the work is a wonderful example of the expressive control Yard has over her generative process. The liminal, graphite-seeming effect creates an illusory and unexpected sense of depth within the composition. The rough finish of the paper amplifies the texture of the infinite flow of waves and subtle value gradations, reinforcing the idea of melding a digital world with a tangible space.

Anna Ridler

Equally inspired by generative art and the Land Art movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Anna Ridler’s Morning Glory: Night Cactus (estimate $80/120,000) is part of the artist’s broader exploration of plants’ chrono-biological clocks, by which they bloom and close at fixed times of day, regardless of external stimuli. A night-blooming cactus, for example, will only bloom at night, even if it is exposed to darkness during the daytime and light at night; a morning glory moved into permanent darkness will still flower in the mornings.

The work is inspired by Carl Linnaeus’ idea of a horologium florae or floral clock, proposed in his Philosophia Botanica in 1751 after observing the phenomenon of certain flowers opening and closing at set times of the day, and also harkens back in an earlier, medieval way of constructing time through reference points of the natural world.

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