Sotheby’s is making moves. The same fine art auction house behind several recent large non-fungible token (NFT) sales has just made its home out of an old Madison Avenue building at the Met Breuer, and on July 26th is launching the chain’s Gen Art Program, powered by the generative art platform Art Blocks.

The program will christen the NFT sale of the early algorithmic artist Vera Molnár. She collaborated with artist and coder Martin Grasser to produce Themes and Variations, a retail series of 500 unique generative artworks. Together, it “expresses the seamless integration of letters as pure abstract form,” the release says, “as well as Molnár’s affinity for disorder.

“Sotheby’s Gen Art Program is powered by the Art Blocks Engine,” Art Blocks founder and CEO Erick Calderon told Cointelegraph, “which allows partners to access Art Blocks’ smart contracts and rendering infrastructure to create their own generative projects.”

Vera Molnár, Themes and Variations, Randomly Generated Test Mint, 2023. Source: Molnár

“All Gen Art Program sales will be fully on-chain and in ETH only,” Sotheby’s Head of Digital Art and NFT Michael Bouhanna told Cointelegraph. “With the integration of the Art Blocks Engine, the Gen Art Program will mark our first digital art auctions held exclusively at ETH. Since moving Sotheby’s metaverse to fully on-chain in May, when we announced it our new secondary marketIt felt like a natural progression to start exploring other sales opportunities that can be fully involved in the chain,” he added. Last week’s announcement also preceded the Web3 Summit at Christie’s by a few days.

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Art Blocks has previously collaborated with traditional art heavyweights such as New York’s Pace Gallery. The platform partnered with Sotheby’s last fall “but didn’t have a project in mind right away,” Calderon said. “It came out [Art Blocks] The engine would be perfect for their build [Sotheby’s] generative artistic platform after committing to a collaboration with Vera Molnár earlier this year.”

Sotheby’s will conduct this inaugural sale as a Dutch auction for the first time in the house’s 300-year history. Art Blocks has historically used this model on their platform. Unlike a more traditional auction where prices start low and climb high, Dutch auction prices start high and go down. The first bid wins, so there are no dramatic bidding wars. According to Sotheby’s, the model introduces a new psychology. The ceiling price for works for this week’s Molnár event is 20 ethers (ETH).

Vera Molnár, Themes and Variations, Randomly Generated Test Mint, 2023. Source: Molnár

Through high-profile strategic partnerships, Art Blocks has built a business strong enough to withstand the volatility of NFTs. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s turned the fall of one of the biggest crypto institutions into huge profits. This spring, Three Arrows Capital’s legendary blue chip NFT collection held a series of auctions that beat estimates.

Most notable is Ringers #879 “Goose” by Dimitri Cherniak who ran his auction debut with Phillips last summer — sold for $6.2 million, despite a high estimate of $3 million. Many take these estimates with justified skepticism, but Cherniak’s work turned out to be the second most expensive digital art ever sold. “Editions from the same series only moments later sold for less than $200,000 each,” Forbes poked out.

This spring’s financial successes showed that now is the time to launch the Gen Art Program, Bouhanna said. “We held our first generative art auction in April 2022, and with the strong results of this sale, it was clear that collectors could see the artistic lineage of generative art and why it is so important not only to digital art, but to contemporary art as well.”

“The Gen Art Program will open up many new opportunities for us, namely the ability to now work directly with leading artists and present exclusive new sales,” he continued.

The initiative also extends Web3’s growing presence. Specifically, this program will focus on elevating long generative art—a large series of works from a central algorithm.

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Calderon believes that respect for the medium is rapidly increasing throughout the art world: “Part of the reason is that the blockchain technology itself is giving way to the content that is being created. […] We will talk less and less about the technology behind generative art and more about the art itself.”

“After decades of exploring how systems and computers can generate artistic output, I see this collaboration with Sotheby’s and Art Blocks as the culmination of those efforts,” said Molnár herself, “providing a new way to generate never-before-seen, unique abstract forms that are defined by the controlled randomness of machine programming—the essence of an algorithm.”

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