A Look at the Two Digital Trends in the Art Market

Art is always looking for new creative avenues to explore, while the art market is always looking for new sources and types of art to mine for profit. The latest trends of art ‘expansion’ can be found in symbiosis with technology. NFT and AI art are the two terms that have been in the zeitgeist of contemporary tech art. The recently concluded Dubai art fair offers a look into the current dynamic between the two trends.

Last year Art Dubai opened its inaugural digital section amidst peak NFT season. NFTs are nonfungible tokens that prove a buyer owns an intangible marker connected to a unique piece of digital art, music or other items. The concept entered mainstream consciousness in March 2021 when Christie's sold a digital work of Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days for $69m. NFTs offer an interesting commentary on ownership and exclusivity of art: in an environment of digital hyper-reproductivity of the image, the promise of exclusive access is clearly appealing.

Ahmed El Shaer, AI Heaven (2023), AI-generated images, courtesy of the artist and Wizara

And yet, just one year later, cryptocurrency has crashed, and NFTs hype proved to be somewhat of a bubble, with online trading reducing significantly. 2023’s Art Dubai Digital (and, significantly, Art Basel Miami) featured far less NFT art and seemingly focused on another fixation of the art market – works that use artificial intelligence (AI). In this field, artificial intelligence models absorb a vast database of human-created artwork, whether that’s text, images, or sound, and ‘learn’ how to create their own art. At Art Dubai, Ahmed El Shaer (Wizara gallery) displayed AI Heaven (2023), a look into how Artificial Intelligence sees the metaphysical and transcendental space of Paradise.

Ahmed Elshaer, AI Heaven, 2021, digital print and gif animations, 20 x 20 cm Courtesy: Wizara

Operating in a similar field is "Multiverse" by Can Büyükberber displayed by Artemis
Gallery. ‘An ongoing form experiment that emerges from the intersection of higher dimensional spaces, organic structures, physics and futurism, it brings hypnotic transcendental objects into different displays in public and private spaces as kinetic sculptures.’

Can Büyükberber, Multiverse Series Courtesy: the artist

Although no longer an in-your-face novelty, NFTs were not absent from the fair. For instance, Jason Seife’s A Modern Genesis- Spring Garden NFT explored the idea of the ‘found object’ within the realm of contemporary digital art. Seife captured the design of an existing Golestan Tabriz carpet and animated each part, trying to imagine what the original weavers were trying to convey.

Jason Seife, A Modern Genesis- Spring Garden دیجیتال آرت, NFT

It is clear that the injection of the potentially endless creative output of AI breathed new life into the NFT practice. Many of the algorithmically generated pieces of art are now being attached to NFTs and being sold on Web3 marketplaces. This is particularly powerful when teams or creators want to issue large sets of NFTs where each token represents a unique piece of art and creating each piece by hand would take too long. Window Project, Gazelli Art House, Pilveneli gallery and others offered NFT generative art. This overlapping of the fields seems to have produced a positive environment for sales, with Art Newspaper reporting that ‘the so-called ‘Crypto Winter’ may be thawing in sunny Dubai, promising a possible ‘Crypto Spring’’.

Theodore & C. will continue to observe the trajectory of NFT and AI art. For now, it does not seem like AI completely trampled the NFT practices but rather provided a new outlet and a new source of output to be sold. Both NFTs and AI art are becoming an accepted part of art creation, and trading; subsequent cyclical rises and falls in interest towards them are par for the course.