Art by Refik Anadol seen behind Dwayne Johnson speaking onstage during the 65th Grammy Awards on February 5, 2023 (photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

The 65th Annual Grammy Awards, held last night, February 5, were a standard affair that seemed to generate the most buzz over two wildly unsurprising topics: Beyoncé breaking the record for most career wins while again being passed up for a big award, and Ben Affleck apparently having a horrible time. But amidst an otherwise uneventful ceremony, sharp-eyed digital art aficionados may have noticed a new phenomenon: An artificial intelligence artwork — generated in real time — was displayed on the screens behind the stage.

The trippy, shape-shifting abstract images are the work of Turkish-American artist Refik Anadol, and according to a representative from his studio, the display marked the first time AI art was used in a Grammy broadcast. Anadol has minted his AI pieces as NFTs and sold them at Sotheby’s. It seems only fitting that AI and NFT art would make their Grammy debut at a stadium called the Arena, the new name for the former Staples Center in Los Angeles as of 2021.

A selection from Machine Hallucinations: Space Metaverse (courtesy Refik Anadol Studio)

“The collaboration started almost six months ago with an exciting call from the designers who are in charge of the stage design and the whole flow of the ceremony,” Anadol said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “Because this year they were going for an immersive stage design, they chose to license our artworks and turn them into a media experience on the giant screens on the stage.”

One of the specific pieces chosen for the Grammy’s exhibition was “Galaxy (Infinite AI Data Painting)” (2021), a swirling generative image trained on photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope. The work creates itself in real-time and never repeats itself, yielding what Anadol calls “machine dreams” of the galaxies documented by the telescope.

“This, to me, is very poetic because it’s technically photos of our past, and the memories of the universe,” the artist said.

The piece is part of Anadol’s multi-year series Machine Hallucinations: Space Metaverse, in which the artist trained a machine learning algorithm on deep space NASA photographs captured by satellites and spacecrafts. The results are detailed and life-like cosmic images, yet while many of his digital works mimic the forms of planetary surfaces and colorful galaxies, others appear more biological, pulsing and morphing on their LED screens. “Unsupervised,” part of Machine Hallucinations, is currently on view at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Last night’s ceremony also featured work from Anadol’s Machine Hallucinations: Nature Dreams, another generative series trained on over 300 million photographs of trees, mushrooms, flowers, landscapes, and other natural objects. Just as in Space Metaverse, Anadol’s algorithm creates a never-ending stream of final products, and similar to his cosmos-themed project, the results are incredibly varied: Some pieces mimic the petals of flowers, others the microbiology of mold, and some the insides of fruits.

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.