Sotheby’s New York hosts a “time-bending” NFT exhibition and auction

Designed to retrace the origins of generative art, the exhibition seeks to help collectors understand its revival on the blockchain.

Natively Digital 1.3 is the third edition of Sotheby’s flagship NFT event, following two that took place in 2021. This time, the auction house presents both physical and NFT artwork, looking to put the latter in the context of a wider generative art movement.

The collection will be open for bidding from April 18 to 25, and a pre-sale exhibition will be held in Sotheby's New York from April 19 to 24. Buyers can pay in fiat as well as cryptocurrencies.

Rethinking generative art

The exhibition spans over 50 years of generative art, from Sine Curve Man executed in 1967 by Charles Csuri, a pioneer of computer art who passed away at 99 shortly before the auction, to freshly-minted NFTs by Dmitri Cherniak and Manolo Gamboa Naon, among others. Michael Bouhanna, Head of Digital Art Sales at Sotheby’s, called the collection “time-bending.”

The auction will also feature two of Roman Verostko’s works celebrating the Turing machine, as well as art created in cooperation with artificial intelligence, including NFTs by Anne Spalter and Sofia Crespo.

A curious bridge between the old and the new forms in the works of Vera Molnar, 98, who presents 1% de désordre (1% of disorder), a 1976 computer plotter drawing on Benson paper, alongside 2% of disorder in co-operation #01, a performative protocol created with the help of random visitors at her studio.

Time bending seems to be the exhibition’s overarching theme, with the link between the origins of generative art and non-fungible tokens taking center stage. But the underlying purpose is to debunk the myth that generative art is authored by machines. The overview of the exhibition asserts adamantly that “nothing could be further from the truth,” adding that “generative art works depend on the human touch of the artist at multiple stages.”

Plunging NFTs into the mainstream

Natively Digital 1.3 is the next chapter in Sotheby’s long-term bid to introduce art collectors to NFTs and digital art. In February, they suffered a setback when the “Punk It” auction consignor backed out at the last minute, but Sotheby’s remains enthusiastic.

Apart from the Native Digital exhibitions, Sotheby’s launched an NFT gallery in Decentraland’s prestigious Voltaire Art District, and started Sotheby’s Metaverse.

According to Bouhanna, NFTs open the art world to an entirely new crowd of buyers, with 78% of NFT bidders in the Metaverse new and under 40. In a recent interview, Bouhanna said he believed 2022 would bring a “mass adoption of the NFT,” adding that art dealers are getting better at “understanding of the potential value of a digital file, how it could be minted and how it can hold artistic value.”