Christie’s Becomes First Auction House to Offer Work of Art Created by an Algorithm

Sunday, August 26, 2018
Christie’s Becomes First Auction House to Offer Work of Art Created by an Algorithm

As part of the ongoing dialogue over AI and art, Christie’s will become the first auction house to offer a work of art created by an algorithm.

The portrait in its gilt frame depicts a portly gentleman, possibly French and — to judge by his dark frockcoat and plain white collar — a man of the church. The work appears unfinished: the facial features are somewhat indistinct and there are blank areas of canvas. Oddly, the whole composition is displaced slightly to the north-west. A label on the wall states that the sitter is a man named Edmond Belamy, but the giveaway clue as to the origins of the work is the artist’s signature at the bottom right. In cursive Gallic script it reads:

Image © Obvious

Image © Obvious

This portrait, however, is not the product of a human mind. It was created by an artificial intelligence, an algorithm defined by that algebraic formula with its many parentheses. And when it goes under the hammer in the Prints & Multiples  sale at Christie’s on 23-25 October, Portrait of Edmond Belamy  will signal the arrival of AI art on the world auction stage.

The painting, if that is the right term, is one of a group of portraits of the fictional Belamy family created by Obvious, a Paris-based collective consisting of Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier. They are engaged in exploring the interface between art and artificial intelligence, and their method goes by the acronym GAN, which stands for ‘generative adversarial network’.
It must also surely be the case that portraiture is an extremely tough genre for AI to take on, since humans are highly attuned to the curves and complexities of a face in a way that a machine cannot be. It turns out that the difficulty was part of the collective’s thinking. ‘We did some work with nudes and landscapes, and we also tried feeding the algorithm sets of works by famous painters. But we found that portraits provided the best way to illustrate our point, which is that algorithms are able to emulate creativity.’
Image on top: Portrait of Edmond Belamy, 2018, created by GAN (Generative Adversarial Network), which will be offered at Christie’s in October. Image © Obvious

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