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Robert Alice, On Avatars in

Robert Alice (Ed.)
On NFTs (Taschen, 2024)

3 Editions including 2 Collector's Editions and a Trade Edition
Hardcover 'BABY SUMO' volume in slipcase, 36 x 50 cm

Excerpt from the introduction: 

My second essay [On Avatars]on the world of NFT avatars or PFPs (profile pictures) ... looks back .... at the origins of the avatar — within gaming, science fiction, and psychology — to examine the question of identity and cultural capital in our new Web3 age.

Excerpt from the essay: 

One of the most prominent figures in the early computer art scene, particularly in reference to the Punks’ pixelated aesthetic, was cyberneticist Leon D. Harmon. In Harmon’s 1973 study in Scientific American, “The Recognition of Faces,” he investigated the minimum level of facial data required in order to pictorially identify an individual. One of the key findings from Harmon’s study was that “a spatial resolution of 16x16 squares was very close to the minimum resolution that allows identification.” Made up of a similar scale pixel grid as the portraits from Harmon’s article, the Punks strike the perfect equilibrium of definable identity and graphic simplicity. They are a form of facial minimalism, underscored by an unequivocal punk aesthetic. Furthermore, the pixel grid aesthetic of Harmon’s Block Portraits is one that translates natively into the NFT space. These pixels represent an intrinsic bond between medium and aesthetic, a metaphor for the blockchain’s blocks that the Punks call home. Coupled with their unique array of attributes, the Punks’ success lies in their ability to visually register with their audience on Twitter timelines. On the social network’s homepage, where  profile pictures measure approximately just 8 mm in diameter on a modern-day smartphone, Harmon’s study in the significance of spatial resolution takes on an order of importance to the contemporary engagement with avatars.

Made in direct response to Harmon’s study, Salvador Dali’s Painting of Gala looking at the Mediterranean sea which from a distance of 20 meters is transformed into a portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko) (1976) [06.16] investigates the conversion of image and identity through depth and perspective of pixelated forms. Dali frames his muse, Gala, with 121 blocks — or pixels — yet when viewed from 20 meters these forms construct an unquestionable portrait of Abraham Lincoln. While not only strikingly similar to the Punks from an aesthetic standpoint, this work also represents the transformation of identity from one individual to another, a theme inherent in avatars. Furthermore, Dal. provokes a reduction of identity through minimalism in order to question the underlying principles of recognition, revealing that even the slightest sensory cues can provoke an association of character. Much like how Conrad Kline became Young Turk in Habitat, Gala fancifully transitions across geographies and time periods into Abraham Lincoln. Painting of Gala… is a surrealist impersonation in which Dal. explores many of the same conceptual structures of escapism and role-play that are hallmarks of our contemporary avatar space. The three-dimensionality of Dali’s work also calls to mind Larva Labs’ second avatar project, Meebits (2021). 

On NFTs is the first major art historical survey of this divisive and contemporary medium. From algorithmic art to avatars, On NFTs includes 10 academic essays and richly illustrated profiles of 101 key artists working with NFTs today. BABY SUMO in format, On NFTs is available for purchase in crypto.

Robert Alice’s On NFTs is the first major art historical survey text on the most compelling, disruptive area of contemporary art today. A rigorous and critical examination of all facets of the NFT ecosystem, On NFTs takes a multidimensional, artist-led approach, leaving its readers with a richer understanding of a topic often shrouded in misconception and pixelated mystery.

The book, presented in TASCHEN’s iconic grand-scale BABY SUMO format and housed in a bespoke aluminum book covering, presents a wide range of essential information to those both new or experienced with the modern medium. Featuring 10 essays from the world’s leading voices in art and blockchain, including Hans Ulrich Obrist, On NFTs is a book that celebrates unlikely and thought-provoking connections from across art history. Expect illustrations of Rembrandt paintings alongside CryptoPunk avatars, extensive essays explaining the nitty-gritty world of NFTs—including Sol LeWitt’s influence on today’s artistic algorithms—as well as behind-the-scenes access to the creative processes of pioneering artists from Beeple and Emily Xie to Snowfro and Refik Anadol.

Accompanying the 10 essays, On NFTs presents a co-curated survey of 101 key practices working in NFTs today. With each profile uniquely authored by handpicked experts, including curators, critics, artists, and AI, On NFTs embraces a diverse and global voice to navigate this borderless movement. Perfect for both natives and newcomers, On NFTs features an extensive glossary of key terms, and a comprehensive exhibition history and timeline of the digital art canon.