When Art Collectors Tossed Millions of NFTs in the Trash | To live

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In 2021, more than US$40.9 billion (RM170 billion) was spent on non-fungible tokens. — Pop Villains/Shutterstock photo via ETX Studio

PARIS, April 8 — When digital artist Robbie Barrat handed out free NFT coupons at Christie’s four years ago, most guests threw them in the trash, not realizing they would soon be worth millions of dollars.

Barrat, then still in his teens, had been invited by the London auction house to talk about the rise of online art.

As part of the presentation, he presented the public with 300 cards, each with a code that gave them rights to a digital artwork that he had created using artificial intelligence.

This was before the NFT market exploded last year, so only about two dozen of the guests bothered to hold onto their little tickets.

Barrat later recovered a lot from trash cans and the floor.

On March 2 of this year, only one of those works of art, Nude Portrait#7Frame#64was sold at Sotheby’s for £630,000 (RM3.4 million).

AI fighting

Barrat, now 22, had worked with AI since high school in the United States.

He created his images by uploading 10,000 nude photos of classical art to his computer and then using two competing AI programs to distort them.

“My interest was: can I make something that is not classic with this tool?” he told AFP in a video interview.

The method is known as “generative adversarial networks” (GANs): two neural networks that compete with each other using algorithms.

“(They) are fighting a bit between each other,” Barrat said, adding that he purposely added glitches to the programs to make the final results more interesting.

The result was a series of shapeless ‘nudes’, disturbing masses of reddish and brown hues that resemble paintings by Salvador Dali or Francis Bacon.

‘Don’t throw this away’

Barrat was invited to speak at Christie’s by art collector Jason Bailey, known in the crypto art world as Artnome, one of the pioneers of the NFT market.

“Nobody knew what an NFT was then,” Bailey told AFP.

He asked Barrat to create credit card-sized coupons for the presentation, each containing a code that gave access to an online NFT stored using blockchain technology, which guarantees unique ownership rights to anyone who has the code.

“I told everyone from the podium, ‘This is the future. Don’t throw this card away.’” Bailey recalled with a smile.

“But these people were traditional art collectors. They just said, ‘Who is this crazy guy on stage… nobody collects digital art.’”

‘I am not interested’

Today, Robbie Barrat’s works are so rare that they are even nicknamed ‘Lost Robbies’.

And the NFT market has gone wild, with total revenue estimated at US$44.2 billion by 2021 according to analytics firm Chainalysis.

But despite his financial success, Barrat is deeply disillusioned with the experience.

“What I’ve seen with my work in recent years is that no one really talks about the image itself. All they talk about is the price,” he says.

Barrat continues to experiment with AI, but says he no longer plans to sell work through the NFT market.

“I really don’t like the NFT space right now. Unless it changes, I’m not interested. Also because of the environmental problems that come with it,” he said.

There are widespread concerns about the massive amounts of energy required to maintain the blockchain and use crypto currencies such as Bitcoin which are used for many NFT transactions.

Four years after the strange episode at Christie’s, Bailey is still defending the validity of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, mainly because they allow artists to receive payments whenever their work is resold – unlike the traditional art market.

But he added: “I fully understand and appreciate Robbie’s desire to move away from NFTs. NFTs are not for every artist at this stage. Especially if they are so polarizing that they overshadow the art itself.” — AFP

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