BABEL, NFT exhibition by Robert Alice

About the exhibition

From June 30 to October 22, 2023

11, quai de Conti - 75006 Paris

In the museum halls


Museum admission tickets

Robert Alice presents BABEL from June 30 to October 22, 2023 at the la Monnaie de Paris

This physical and digital art exhibition, built in close collaboration with the monetary institution and the NFT LaCollection platform, brings Web3 and NFT into dialogue with France's oldest institution. In this innovative project, nurtured by in-depth exchanges with the curators of the Monnaie de Paris museum and using a wide variety of cutting-edge technologies, from smart contracts and LiDAR scans to virtual reality and artificial intelligence, the works explore conceptual and philosophical topics central to blockchain.
Taking its title from Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 short story ‘Library of Babel’ (1941), this new exhibition by Robert Alice investigates blockchains through the lens of Borges’ infinite library : a space made of identical and interconnected hexagon rooms each with a set about of shelves and books that number those shelves, endowed with the same number of pages, lines and characters, constituting all possible variations, written and to come, of books without any readable content.


A dialogue between a Web3 artist and a centuries-old institution

Robert Alice is an artist, curator, writer and pioneer in the crypto art and NFT space. In 2021, Alice curated the first curated NFT auction at a major auction house – “Natively Digital”, with Sotheby’s. The artworks in the BABEL project are all hybrids. Both digital and physical, they underline the importance of materiality and history in Robert Alice's artistic approach, and draw attention to the links between blockchain technologies and the past. The twenty or so works that make up the project are first and foremost NFTs; the lightboxes and prints presented along the museum's itinerary are the physical twins of the digital works. A QR code placed on the label provides access to the digital work on the LaCollection platform.

The artist was invited to visit the Parisian site, its historic salons, museum and medallions, as well as the exhibition L'Argent dans l'art. From this visit and from discussions with the curatorial team, and in particular with Dominique Antérion, two series of original works directly inspired by the architecture, history and heritage collections of the Monnaie were born, and are being previewed as part of this exhibition: The Blueprints and Ornement and Crisis.


The Blueprints

A new body of work made in direct response to the collection of the Monnaie de Paris, The Blueprints hijack original blueprints and architectural drawing from the museum’s collections and rework them into large scale abstractions. This original blueprints and architectural drawing (1890-1930) have been interwoven with diagrams, typologies, literature and digital aesthetics take from the history of blockchains. The each work commences with an AI ASCII background trained on a database. Using this as a digital canvas, the original blueprints from the Monnaie de Paris are fragments and fractures, before being layered again with a further ASCII encoding which redraws the apparent contours with the letters "MCV", a new reference to Borges' library where there is book that holds only variations of this three letters.

Ornaments and Crisis

A second new body of work made in direct response to the collection of the Monnaie de Paris, Ornaments and Crisis presents an alternative history of the world through a focus on the repetition of financial crises. The works is named after Adolf Loos’s 'Ornament and Crime' (1908), modernist manifesto which decried the use of ornament in the modern period, in favour of a form meets function approach to design. Influenced directly by the contemporary moment, the work draws inspiration from the recent 24/7 media coverage of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and takeover of Credit Suisse. Contrasting this alternative history of 100 world crises stretching from 33 BC to 2023 AD and using specially made LiDAR scans in archaeological and architectural studies, the works’ hijack the architecture of the Monnaie de Paris to recast the neo-classical solidity of the building as one that is instead see-through and unstable. Some of these financial crises are evoked by objects from the heritage collections of the Monnaie de Paris, presented in showcases alongside works by Robert Alice: monetary mutations under Philippe le Bel, speculation on tulip bulbs in the 17th century, John Law's bankruptcy in the 18th century, right up to today's Ukrainian inflation.

Detail of Robert Alice, Block 34 (51.895167° N, 1.4805° E). Credit: Theo Christelis Photography

Portraits of a Mind

Created in 2019, the 140 cm-diameter circular work is engraved around its circumference with a portion of the Bitcoin code invented by Satoshi Nakamoto. Starting from the center, the digits of the code form the spiral patterns of the painting. Among them, 32 gold-encrusted digits reveal themselves according to the light. The painting is part of a series of 40 works, the first 20 of which are now distributed among collectors around the world. This dissemination echoes the decentralization at the very heart of Nakamoto's open-source principle. The form of the work makes it part of a history: it recalls ancient Japanese coinage, cipher wheels and astronomical maps.

The Fragments

An evolution from ‘Portraits of a Mind’ (2018-Ongoing), The Fragments are an excerise in co-creation between the artist and collector and viewer. Taking the ethos of fragmentation and decentralisation of an artwork to its logical conclusion, The Fragments further fragments a ‘Block’ from Portraits of Mind into a further 12 individual engravings of Satoshi Nakamoto’s BTC Core v0.1.0 original source code. The artist invites the collector or viewer to reposition the artwork into different compositions and typologies or even physically decentralising the work across various architectures.