Adam Lindemann is a trend-setting contemporary art collector, author, and philanthropist. He is the founder of the Venus Over Manhattan art gallery and has a diverse collection of modern and contemporary art. Lindemann has also published several books on art and collecting, including Taschen’s "Collecting Contemporary," which explores the motivations and strategies behind building a contemporary art collection. In this interview series, Lindemann sits down with some of the most influential figures in the digital art world, including collectors, artists, and experts, to discuss the current state and future of the industry. The interviews offer a unique perspective on the world of digital art collecting, drawing upon Lindemann's own experiences and insights as a collector and author.
Derek Schloss is a Managing Partner at Collab+Currency, a leading crypto venture fund investing in early-stage projects building out the crypto economy. Trained as an attorney, and former startup founder and instructor at the University of Oregon School of Business, Derek invests in sharp founders solving the biggest problems at the intersection of consumer x web3. Derek is also a prolific NFT collector, and founding member of Flamingo DAO, NEON Dao, Red DAO, and Noise DAO.
AL: This conversation is all about Erick Calderon, also known as Snowfro. And why you, Derek, along with many other collectors and artists, see him as one of the most influential artists of his generation. Let’s start with a little bit about your background in art, and as a collector, before the advent of the NFT.
DS: Definitely. I grew up in Los Angeles, and a large part of my personal network over the course of my life has been involved in the arts, both creatively and commercially. I studied music growing up – and later, creative writing in college – before going to business school, then law school, then co-founding my own consumer startup company. My wife was a performance artist, she’s performed in exhibitions and works in Los Angeles, New York, and overseas for over a decade. The making of creative work has been a part of my life for a long time.
For me, blockchain-based art started to intersect with the traditional art world in early 2020, with a platform called SuperRare. For the first time, digital artists had the ability to create digital work of all kinds on the SuperRare platform, and feel confident that their art could live forever on a global, trust-minimized database called Ethereum. Commercial markets for these digital objects started to heat up in the summer of 2020, during which time I penned a thesis called "You're Sleeping On Crypto Art". In that piece, I made the argument that a non-trivial share of the multi-billion dollar art market would soon be generated on blockchains.
AL: Were you a VC in the space? Where were you in your life when you discovered this?
DS: I entered the blockchain space in 2018, advising blockchain startups and working as the Director of a blockchain research organization. By 2020, I was running an early-stage venture fund called Collab+Currency along with my partner Steve. Our investment in SuperRare, and the piece I wrote on crypto art, really solidified our name as one of the leading thinkers on how art, media, and all consumer applications would be positively affected by blockchain technology over the coming years.
AL: How did SuperRare, which does unique works (one of ones) bring you to discover Art Blocks, a minter of generative multiples (one of one of x)?
DS: Writing the thesis piece along with the investment in SuperRare really refined my understanding of how this technology would apply to contemporary art. From there, I started to venture further out on the risk curve in terms of other non-financial communities that were starting to intersect with blockchains.
One of the most interesting communities I identified after SuperRare was CryptoPunks, a project and community that had launched a few years prior in 2017. The authors of that project, Larva Labs, had created a computer algorithm that assembled together 10,000 versions of a simple 8-bit character, all of which were completely unique from one another. Some of these Punks had mohawks. Others had sunglasses. A few had thick beards, some had pink or blonde hair.
DS: There was even a very statistically rare group of ape punks, and an even rarer category of alien punks. Most importantly, Larva Labs hadn’t hand-selected each character’s traits – a computer had autonomously generated these outputs based on the algorithm parameters set by Larva Labs. Once all 10,000 characters were generated, the Larva Labs team uploaded each of these characters onto the Ethereum blockchain, and made them all free to claim as individual NFTs.
As I spent more time in the CryptoPunks community, I learned about how some of the project’s important technical decisions made it one of the earliest and most compelling applications of using the Ethereum blockchain as a recording format for artistic works.
Now, deep within the CryptoPunks community was a community moderator and artist named Snowfro – Erick Calderon. Along with being an official moderator to the CryptoPunks project, Snowfro was also a friend to the Larva Labs founders.
Today, Snowfro still has one of the top CryptoPunks collections ever assembled by a single individual. He also, at the time he was claiming his CryptoPunk collection in 2017, had the creative insight to question whether the process for collecting blockchain-based generative artwork could be radically improved.
For example – could it be possible not just to use the Ethereum blockchain as a recording format for the final version of art, but actually create a process where the entire generative art piece, from the artist algorithm, to the collection process, to the generated output, could be baked with procedural randomness and simultaneously stored 100% on the Ethereum blockchain.
For many years, Snowfro would describe this vision in the CryptoPunks discord to community members and the Larva Labs team, and eventually, would go on to launch Art Blocks, and its first project Chromie Squiggles, in November of 2020.
AL: So the overlap between CryptoPunk owners and Chromie Squiggle owners is because it's the same crowd–it's the same people who are the OGs.
DS: Yes – by November 2020 when Chromie Squiggles launched, many of the most interesting conversations in NFTs were happening inside of the CryptoPunks Discord chats. Some of the leading NFT collectors, artists, and builders congregated daily in these conversations, many of whom had been sharing ideas about NFTs and their technical constraints with one another since 2017. In these groups, Snowfro was seen not just as a top CryptoPunks collector, but one of the leading voices, artists, and community builders for the NFT industry.
And because the Chromie Squiggle shared so much genetic DNA with CryptoPunks – they were both calls to the practice of generative art, both collections with 10,000 unique pieces, and both using the Ethereum blockchain guided by transformative technical decisions – many of the earliest Chromie Squiggle collectors in November 2020 were also the earliest CryptoPunks collectors.
AL: What was your reaction to the project when it launched?
DS: The first time I minted a Chromie Squiggle in November 2020, a giant light bulb went off in my head. The process was very different than claiming a pre-generated NFT on a blockchain – like CryptoPunks. Engaging with the Chromie Squiggle project was a completely new and novel process that felt like it would accelerate both generative art and crypto art.
While Snowfro had set the controlling parameters for Chromie Squiggle’s on-chain algorithm, it was myself as the collector – and my unique mint hash at that very moment in time – that triggered a completely randomized output with a near-infinite amount of possibilities for the visual work to form.
Only myself, in that very moment in history, could have created this specific generative NFT output – one that would live forever for as long as the Ethereum blockchain produced blocks.
In other words, the Chromie Squiggle and the Art Blocks platform did not just articulate a new path to generative art commercialization – it articulated a new technical process by which randomness, a core feature of generative art, could now extend to both the minting and collecting process on a blockchain medium.
AL: What was your aesthetic reaction to not only the original ones that were made, but also the variations?
DS: The Chromie Squiggle itself is a brilliant visual project – as straightforward or as complex as the viewer wants to enjoy the collection.
On the surface, the Squiggle appears to be a basic, computer-generated, rainbow line. It forces the question – how can something so simple be art? Be valuable?
I’ve heard others like yourself Adam compare the Chromie Squiggle to the simplicity of Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstrokes series in 1965, which evoked the same questions.
DS: Even back in November 2020, the Chromie Squiggle felt like the perfect symbol for the growing questions around the value of digital art – if anyone could simply screenshot the image on their screen, how can a digital object be valuable?
As you go deeper into the Chromie Squiggle collection, you realize how strikingly distinct these algorithmically-generated rainbow lines are from one another – and why. There are six visual categories upon which these rainbow lines can mathematically form – Standard, Slinky, Fuzzy, Ribbed, Bold, and Pipe.
In addition, there are mathematically rare Hyper-variant versions of each of the six visual categories – Hyper-Standard, Hyper-Slinky, Hyper-Fuzzy, Hyper-Ribbed, Hyper-Bold, and the rarest Chromie Squiggle of all – the Hyper-Pipe, of which only four have ever been randomly generated.
DS: For a few collectors in late 2020, it became clear right away that the Chromie Squiggle and Art Blocks were a seismic innovation for crypto art – instead of using the blockchain purely as a recording format to capture pre-defined visual rarities like CryptoPunks, the blockchain could actually be used in the process of generating wildly diverse math-based visual outputs, both in real time and on-chain by each collector.
In other words – underneath the simplicity of these rainbow lines were technical standards that would later inspire an entire industry of generative artists, creative coders, randomized minting, on-chain community formation, and more. A few months later in April of 2021, I decided to write and publish a piece about these primitives, and the lineage of generative art from the 1950’s and 1960’s through its eventual intersection with Chromie Squiggles in November 2020.
Today, having had the benefit of watching the NFT industry unfold since that period, it’s clear that the design decisions of the Chromie Squiggle both heavily influenced the practice of on-demand, on-chain generative art – but virtually every other category of the NFT space too – including the creation of later projects like Bored Apes (Gaming), Nouns (DAOs), and Terraforms (Run-Time Art) among many other important verticals. Each of these projects, and countless others, have drawn from an almost identical design space of Chromie Squiggles to inform a new creative direction.
"...underneath the simplicity of these rainbow lines were technical standards that would later inspire an entire industry of generative artists, creative coders, randomized minting, on-chain community formation, and more."
- Derek Schloss
AL: This is consistent with the first project of Squiggles also functioning as “Project Zero”. Did you anticipate that there would be so many more generative artists appearing on Art Blocks afterward? And did you understand that this was a whole new trend and boom that would occur within this collecting community?
DS: I started to realize how influential the Chromie Squiggle was going to be within a few days of minting and collecting my first one. I found myself constantly checking in on the diversity of mints that were being generated on-demand by collectors, one at a time, and how individuals were starting to evaluate these rainbow lines based on aesthetic value and rarity.
Snowfro himself had started to spend quite a bit of time with collectors in both the Art Blocks and CryptoPunks Discord channels talking about his technical decisions and process for creating the Art Blocks method and the Chromie Squiggle project as the platform’s originating project. I watched hundreds of new collectors come into the online community every few days, minting Chromie Squiggles, asking questions, and spending time with one another geeking out on the technology he had created.
As Chromie Squiggles continued minting over December 2020 and January 2021, the concept started to spread like wildfire. Something special was starting to happen, and there was a growing buzz around the project. I started to see more influential artists entering the Art Blocks Discord to learn more. Chromie Squiggles began to act as an instructional guide for many of these traditional generative artists, who could mint a Chromie Squiggle in order to better understand the parameters for how they too could employ these same on-chain design constraints in their own generative art work. Eventually, this would lead to these artists dropping their own follow-on collections on Art Blocks – collections like Fidenza (Tyler Hobbs), Archetype (Kjetil Golid), Subscapes (Matt DesLauriers), and Ringers (Dmitri Cherniak) among many others.
AL: How do you account for the fact that the NFT collecting community at large has embraced the concept of generative art?
DS: I think what collectors have found with blockchain-based generative art is one of the purest forms of crypto art – not only do these types of project use and leverage the NFT scarcity wrapper, but many of these generative projects have also leaned much further into using the blockchain medium as part of the creative process for procedural randomness, on-demand collection creation, and permanent storage of the digital object. Put simply, Chromie Squiggle, as the first-ever project on Art Blocks, was an important evolution on how NFTs could be created, served, and stored.
On this last point, it’s important to note that Chromie Squiggles and Art Blocks generative art projects rely on close to no external dependencies for their storage – which is very unique for collecting NFTs, and a very high technical bar to reach.
It can be prohibitively expensive to store large media on a blockchain – especially one of the most secure blockchains like Ethereum. As a result, many NFTs are simply a “pointer” asset, directing the holder to an off-blockchain storage of the media. However, if that off-blockchain storage is ever deleted, removed, or taken down, the art or media will be lost forever. All a collector would be left with is an empty NFT shell.
Given Snowfro’s insistence on immutability and permanence, the Chromie Squiggle collection and Art Blocks collections have been architected to live on-chain forever – which has led these digital objects to be highly sought after and collectible. If anything were to ever happen to Snowfro, or Art Blocks as a platform, it will have no direct effect on the generative artwork that lives in an owner’s wallet. Any Chromie Squiggle or Art Blocks piece can always be recreated, because the collector’s token hash (seed) and artist algorithm (project) both live on Ethereum.
To put it simply – any Chromie Squiggle, in any resolution, will always be able to be rendered in real-time for as long as the Ethereum blockchain exists – which is a very powerful concept for the top collectors in the world.
AL: You have said that you believe Snowfro is one of the most important, if not the most important artist of his generation? Can you elaborate on that?
DS: It's my view that on-chain generative art will go down as one of the most important art forms in history. Looking back across history, legacy art movements can typically be viewed as reactions to prior art movements and relevant cultural events.
On-chain generative art encapsulates this generation’s values of technology, permanence, individuality, collaboration, collectivism – tethered to dynamic, internet-formed communities in real time.
In my view, the two most important artists to usher on-chain generative art into the mainstream are Larva Labs and Snowfro. As we go through time, we’ll be able to draw a line straight back to these two artists as pioneers upon which on-chain generative media was both created and proliferated.
As far as the Chromie Squiggle itself, it is an endlessly fascinating genesis project by Snowfro.
The project is an important instructional guide that was used to inspire the world’s most talented creative coders to learn about on-chain, on-demand, generative art.
The Squiggle was also a perfect challenge to the preconceived value that computer art can have. And even more simply, a computer-generated rainbow line itself is a response to what art should be, or even look like.
The project has also become one of the most important examples of global community formation around an on-demand generative art collection – formed natively over the internet.
Chromie Squiggles are also the genesis project for Art Blocks, a platform which set creative standards for creating and collecting on-demand and on-chain objects that would heavily influence every important generative media project to come – even outside the contemporary art vertical.
As a result, I believe as both an object of art and as an object of culture, Chromie Squiggles represents one of our space’s most important projects.
And I believe its creator, Snowfro, as one of this generation’s most important artists.
AL: Recently, Erick launched 100 Untitled Spaces in Mexico City at Bright Moments and it was very successful. Why do you think that's significant and what does that tell us about the future of Snowfro the artist?
DS: Snowfro as a creator and as an artist has an uncanny ability to see the future as it will exist with technology.
And I think that is very much embodied in the work that he creates, both in the technical decisions he’s made time and time again, but also in the form and body of his work. His work is a map, charting out the path forward.
His latest work, 100 Untitled Spaces, is the idea of one hundred rooms generated on demand and on the fly. Each space is unique to one another, though they share a number of distinct qualities – inspired by Mexican-architect Luis Barragán, Donald Judd’s 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum, and the historic town of Marfa, Texas.
Hanging inside of each of these unique rooms is also a unique generative art piece – two algorithms working together – a generative art piece within a generative art piece.
100 Untitled Spaces is very much a work about on-chain generative art’s evolution from purely digital spaces into physical spaces. While many on-chain generative artists continue to explore complex and abstract themes of geometry, lines, shapes, and color, Snowfro has started to venture further out conceptually. 100 Untitled Spaces is a creative statement that this technology does not end in the digital plane – the digital plane is merely where it begins.
My view is that on-chain generative media will affect how everything in the physical world is generated, from the art hanging in our homes to the structures we work and play within, to the clothes we wear and the furniture we rest on. It is not difficult to see the increasing role of AI and computer-created algorithms accelerating these ideas around generative manufacturing, creative coding, and algorithmically generated physical outputs.
100 Untitled Spaces is an articulation of this inevitable grand trend line. A visual abstraction for the intersection of art, technology, and real world objects. The piece also elegantly ties back to the color palette of his original piece Chromie Squiggle, while alluding to the increasing role of his Art Blocks platform in this generative, real-world future.