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When art collectors threw millions of NFTs in the trash

  • A digital artist, Robbie Barrat handed out NFT coupons four years ago, which some recipients removed.
  • However, the NFT market has since exploded, with sales in 2021 estimated at $ 44.2 billion.
  • However, Barrat does not intend to continue selling his work through the NFT market.

When digital artist Robbie Barrat handed out free NFT (non-fungible token) coupons to Christie’s four years ago, most guests threw them in the bin, not realizing they would soon be worth millions of dollars.

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

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

This was before the NFT market exploded last year, and about two dozen of the guests made it difficult to hold on to their little tickets.

Barrat later picked up a lot of trash and the floor.

On March 2 this year, only one of those artworks, “Nude Portrait # 7Frame # 64”, was sold at Sotheby’s for 630,000 (R12 million).

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

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

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

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

“(They) kind of fight between each other,” Barrat said, adding that he deliberately added glitches to the programs to make the final results more interesting.

The result was a series of shapeless “naked”, restless masses of reddish and brown tones that resembled paintings by Salvador Dali or Francis Bacon.

‘Do not throw it 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 with a code that gave access to an NFT stored online using blockchain technology, which guarantees unique property rights to whoever has the code.

“I told everyone on stage, ‘This is the future. Do not throw away this card.’ Bailey recalled with a smile.

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

‘I’m not interested’

Today, Robbie Barrat’s works are very rare, to the point that they become nicknamed “Lost Robbies”.

And the NFT market has gone wild, with total sales estimated at $ 44.2 billion in 2021 according to research firm Chainalysis.

But despite his financial success, Barrat has been deeply disillusioned by the experience.

“In recent years, what I’ve seen with my work is that no one really discusses the image themselves. All they talk about is the price,” he said.

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

“I really do not like the NFT space right now. If it does not change, I am not interested. Also because of the environmental problems with it,” he said.

There are widespread concerns about the large amounts of energy needed to maintain the blockchain and operate crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin that are used for many NFT transactions.

Four years after the early episode at Christie’s, Bailey still defends the validity of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, mainly because they allow artists to receive payments every time their work is resold – as opposed to the traditional art market.

But he added: “I fully understand and appreciate Robbie’s desire to distance himself from NFTs. NFTs are not for every artist at this point. Especially as they are so polarizing that they overlook the art itself.”

When art collectors threw millions of NFTs in the trash

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