MoMA Acquires Refik Anadol’s ‘Unsupervised’ in an AI Art Win

Credit: MOMA

The Museum of Modern Art, a New York institution, is known for pushing the boundaries on contemporary art. It gained international recognition during World War II for its retrospective exhibition on the legendary Pablo Picasso and an early exhibition of the works of Van Gogh, which included letters from the artist.

Now, it has made a statement about AI art and NFTs. The result is a big win for the Web3 space.

MoMA (the acronym for the Museum) has acquired Refik Anadol’s ‘Unsupervised — Machine Hallucinations,’ making the piece the first AI-generated, tokenized artwork to be added to the museum’s permanent collection. Anadol, Google’s first artist-in-residence and creator of some of the most transfixing AI-NFT projects, made the announcement on X two days ago:

‘Unsupervised — Machine Hallucinations,’ is a three-piece set of installations that have graced MoMA for 50 weeks. It uses publicly available data on the museum’s permanent collection, which spans over 200 years in art history, to create a captivating array of continuously moving colors and shapes. It asks a fundamental question: “What would AI dream of when reimaging art history — what could have been and what will come to pass in the future?”

According to various New York publications, including the New Yorker, ‘Unsupervised’ has attracted large crowds ever since the opening of the exhibition. The moving shapes and the sheer size of the installation are attention grabbers. Now, at least one of the three pieces will be available for viewing into the future, a win for the AI art community and Web3 as a whole.

A Little More About ‘Unsupervised — Machine Hallucinations’

‘Unsupervised’ is at the cutting edge of contemporary art, combining elements of generative artificial intelligence and non-fungible tokens. As such, it has caused a wide range of reactions in the art community, including some backlash. One noted critic called the artwork a glorified lava lamp.

So, what is ‘Unsupervised’ exactly and why is it so important?

Anadol, the creator of ‘Winds of Yawanawa’ and other generative collections focused on the environment, designed the piece with a simple question in mind: If AI were to operate without set constraints, how would it reimagine modern art and the future of the field? To do so, he worked with a team from NVIDIA to design a system that incorporated 138,151 pieces of metadata drawn from MoMA’s art collection.

The idea was to capture the machine’s “hallucinations” of modern art in a multi-dimensional space, something of a psychedelic dream. The embeddings are rendered in 1024 dimensions, and the result is an exploration of automatism, chance, and systems to create a new art form. This, according to Anadol’s official website. Here is a video capture of the piece:

It is a masterwork from one of the legends in the field, and its inclusion in MoMA’s permanent collection represents an acceptance of AI art at a prestigious museum — a win given the controversy surrounding the medium. Although more artists are using AI tools to create their works, the pushback has been strong, especially among art critics and other gatekeepers.

MoMA’s acquisition has put the conversation front and center, which could ultimately benefit AI artists and those who view AI as just a new technology to create — rather than something that will spell the end of art forever. It also restores MoMA’s relevance and culture of risk-taking: adding collections that are pushing boundaries.

All in all, a win for the space.

How NFTs Play a Role in ‘Unsupervised’

And then there is the hard Web3 aspect: the non-fungible tokens. While ‘Unsupervised — Machine Hallucinations’ made waves because it is an AI-generative artwork purchased by MoMA, it is also the first tokenized piece added to the museum’s permanent collection. And the excitement doesn’t stop there.

For the ‘Unsupervised’ exhibition, MoMA created an NFT that guests could own by scanning a QR code. It functioned as a sort of memento — like a Proof-of-Attendance Protocol NFT for an event that spanned nearly a year. It is one of the many use cases for NFTs, one that many organizations, including the NFL, have taken advantage of.

There’s more too. While much of the attention focuses on the physical installations, Anadol created an accompanying NFT collection for ‘Unsupervised,’ minted on the platform Feral File, which was founded by a former teacher of his. According to OpenSea, there are 109 NFTs in the collection and none are for sale.

So, in all, the acquisition incorporates an artwork that contains AI, NFTs, and blockchain — many of the new facets of a technological revolution dawning upon us. It is a win for all involved, no matter what the critics say.

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