What We Know (and Don’t Know) About Pak
Last week, Sotheby’s announced a partnership with digital artist Pak. The auction industry expected Sotheby’s to delve into digital art and NFTs after its leading competitor, Christie’s, broke the auction record for an NFT earlier this month. However, Sotheby’s move raised more questions than answers. The details of the sale, set for some time in April, are still murky. Much less is clear about the identity of Pak, who may be a single artist, an artist collective, or a computer program designed by engineers.
Auction Daily looks at what the industry knows so far and which questions are still unanswered.
Who Is Pak?
According to a rare interview with Pak in 2020, they have worked in digital art for over 25 years. They would not disclose what tools they use to create their pieces, although they admitted to using some common software and a few tools of their own creation.
Some sources identify Pak as the second most popular digital artist behind Beeple. Projects such as Archillect, Pak’s algorithmically-curated Twitter account, and collaborations with companies such as Nifty Gateway expose millions of people to Pak’s work.
It’s unlikely that the auction industry will know any time soon whether Pak is an individual artist, a group collaboration, or AI. Sotheby’s early statements regarding the April sale hint that it is committed to preserving Pak’s secrecy. “The artist prefers to remain anonymous in part because the artist wants it to be about the art, which is not necessarily a new thing in the art world,” Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart told CNBC’s Squawk Box.
Stewart’s comments aim to link Pak to a tradition of reclusive artists shying away from the spotlight. This could help Sotheby’s make Pak’s anonymity less startling to industry veterans while preserving the allure some collectors might find in a mysterious persona.
What Are Some of Pak’s Most Notable Projects?
Many know of Archillect, an algorithm created by Pak that curates images and gifs on Twitter. The account has nearly 2.5 million followers as of March 2021. Scrolling through Archillect’s most recent tweets, viewers will find a mixture of landscapes, metro scenes, memes, and pop culture references.
Pak gives Archillect keywords, directing the algorithm toward the content that matches Pak’s aesthetic. However, Archillect does not just repost the first image it pulls up but instead crawls the entire page to learn new keywords and common associations. High-profile fans of Archillect include Elon Musk.
One of the controversies surrounding Archillect is the posting of images without proper attribution. The algorithm, Archillect, makes an effort to give due credit, but Pak admits that correctly attributing every picture and gif would be next to impossible. “Archillect is limited to the data that’s available at the discovered image source,” writes Pak. “This makes creator/work identification unreliable.”
For years, meme pages have shared images across the internet with little to no credit given to the original artist. However, as Pak’s Archillect becomes its own artistic statement from which Pak greatly benefits, the admitted misattributions become more glaring.
For their part, Pak will take down any image upon request of the original artist. “Based on your request, it will be removed or credited immediately. It was obviously too beautiful and got [Archillect’s] attention,” writes Pak. This policy may give some artists peace of mind. Others may find it unnerving that Pak appears to compliment artists whose work was just taken without their permission.
Outside of Archillect, Pak is known for creating geometric works, including the X series. The 15 pieces, referred to as “moments” by Pak, were available for only one day on Nifty Gateway. Pak minted as many editions of each piece as collectors purchased within 24 hours. After that, though, no more editions were minted. This created what Pak saw as an equilibrium between supply and demand. In theory, more editions should now exist of the most desired images, and fewer of the least wanted.
Which Pak Works Will Sotheby’s Offer in April?
Few details are currently available about Sotheby’s sale of Pak NFTs in April. However, Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart did say that there will be “open editions,” which will allow more collectors to own a work by Pak. Sotheby’s will also offer individual pieces, which will be more similar to Christie’s auction of Beeple’s EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS earlier in March.
While the Sotheby’s sale comes at a time when NFTs are at the forefront of auction industry news, not all of that attention is positive. Auction Daily recently reported on how NFTs may undermine the industry’s move towards environmental sustainability. Meanwhile, several collectors active on the previously-mentioned Nifty Gateway had thousands of dollars in digital artwork stolen, raising concerns about cybersecurity in the digital art community.
Auction Daily will continue its coverage of Pak and the market for NFTs as the story develops. Want to learn how the auction industry got to this point? Read a category spotlight of digital art, published before Christie’s record-setting sale.