MoMA Acquires Refik Anadol’s Popular Generative Artwork ‘Unsupervised’

The Museum of Modern Art has acquired artworks by two major digital artists, Refik Anadol and Ian Cheng.

The Anadol piece, Unsupervised – Machine Hallucinations – MoMA (2022), is a generative artwork that uses the museum’s visual archive to produce a machine-learning model that interprets and reimagines images of artworks in MoMA’s collection. The work went on view late last year and was recently extended through October 29.

Since going on view, the piece has drawn sizable crowds. Critics have eyed the work with suspicion, with New York’s Jerry Saltz comparing it to a lava lamp. But Lloyd Wise, in Artforum, defended the work for the way it dialogued with modernism.

The piece, which includes a companion NFT, was donated to the museum by tech entrepreneur Ryan Zurrer, one of the most prolific collectors of digital art, through his 1OF1 Collection, along with the RFC Collection, led by Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile and Desiree Casoni.

In a recent roundtable interview with ARTnews for its annual Top 200 Collectors issue, Zurrer said, “I tip my hat to the folks at MoMA for understanding the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. Unsupervised went up two weeks before ChatGPT went public. AI is the defining topic of the moment, and MoMA captured that. I’m excited to donate this work to MoMA. But I need to acknowledge that this isn’t just a donation from me and [collector] Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, but from Refik. He is bringing the servers and screens and the other components. The NFT is one part of this conceptual artwork that belongs to MoMA now.”

In a statement, Rodriguez-Fraile said, “We wish to express our sincere gratitude to MoMA for their collaboration in showcasing Refik Anadol’s groundbreaking work to a global audience. We are thrilled that Unsupervised now has a permanent home with MoMA, an institution that is always at the cutting edge of visual culture. This moment holds historical importance: it will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the history of art, resonating for generations to come. This endeavor has served as a magnificent bridge between traditional and digital mediums, greatly impacting the broader art community, igniting invaluable discussions, and inspiring artists around the world.”

Anadol is a Turkish American artist who uses primarily data and machine learning algorithms to produce site-specific immersive installations and live audiovisual performances. After doing public art commissions at venues like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, he became Google’s first artist-in-residence in 2016. He has become known for creating installations that visualize environmental research data documenting climate change around coral reefs, glaciers, and rainforests.

The new work by Cheng that MoMA acquired, 3FACE (2022), is a generative artwork that analyzes the blockchain wallet data of its owner to “generate a visual portrait of the forces that compose the owner’s personality,” according to the museum. The work was donated by Outland Art, a new platform and publisher dedicated to digital art, and is now one of four works by the artist owned by MoMA, whose sister institution, MoMA PS1, staged a solo show for him in 2017.

Cheng, a New York–based artist, has become well known over the last decade for creating screen-based artworks that he calls “live simulations.” The works, typically coded using the video game engineer Unity, often address evolution, artificial intelligence and change over time.