Few artists have been better rewarded for their patience than Vera Molnár. As she approaches a century on planet earth, the type of algorithmic art she has been conjuring via increasingly competent machines since the late 1960s is very much in vogue.
If her inclusion inside the main exhibition of last year’s Venice was a belated grand introduction to the mainstream art world, her selection as the first artist in Sotheby’s fully on-chain Gen Art Program achieves something similar with the crypto art crowd. It’s the auction house’s latest blockchain venture, one that places long-term confidence in a single slice of the NFT universe: generative art.
Molnár is a fitting lead-off artist. Her computer art experiments began in 1968 at the Sorbonne where she created artworks using a punch card and early programming language Fortran. In what Molnár terms “machine imaginaire,” or computer imagination, the Paris-based artist has long celebrated the spasmodic outputs of machines with particular attention to color and composition.
Molnár’s offering at Sotheby’s, at a sale titled “Themes and Variations,” which she likens to the piano mutations of Bach, is a sly wink at the digital world her work is being embraced by. Together with algorithmic artist Martin Grasser, she has devised a system that will generate 500 unique pieces centered on experimenting with the typography and formulation of the letters N, F, and T. The series, which will be executed live on July 28, is sequential with the background of the first work informing the foreground of the second. For color, the artist has expanded the palette of her favorite pastel crayons.
“Vera Molnár is one of the undisputed legends of generative art, whose decades of experimentation with the form has paved the way for what we know of today as algorithm-based digital art,” Michael Bouhanna, Sotheby’s Head of Digital Art said in a statement.
Gen Art Program is a collaboration with generative art-focused platform Art Blocks, and Sotheby’s is implementing its partner’s preferred mode of sale: Dutch auction, whereby bidding starts at a ceiling—20 ETH or $37,000 in the Molnár sale—and descends incrementally. It’s the first time, the auction house claims, that it has used the format in its 300-year history.
“After decades of exploring how systems and computers can generate artistic outputs, I see this collaboration with Sotheby’s and Art Blocks as a culmination of those efforts,” Molnár said. “[It provides] a new way to generate never-before-seen, unique abstract forms that are defined by the controlled randomness of machine programming.”
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