Auction  August 21, 2018

Christie's to Auction Artwork Created by an Algorithm

Courtesy Christie's

Detail of Portrait of Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy

New York—This fall, as part of the ongoing dialogue over AI and art, Christie’s will become the first major auction house to offer a work of art created by an algorithm, which will be included in the Prints & Multiples auction in New York October 23-25. The work is titled Portrait of Edmond de Belamy (estimate: $7,000-10,000), created by artificial intelligence and conceived by the Paris-based collective Obvious.

Courtesy Christie's

Portrait of Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy

Generative Adversarial Network print, on canvas, 2018, 70x70 cm (60x60 cm unframed) signed with GAN model loss function in ink by the publisher, from a series of eleven unique images, published by Obvious Art, Paris, with original gilded wood frame.

Estimate: $7,000-10,000

The portrait depicts a 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. The portrait, however, is not the product of a human mind. It is one of a group of 11 unique portraits of the fictional Belamy family conceived by Obvious, a Paris-based collective consisting of Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier.

Hugo Caselles-Dupré, representative of Obvious, describes the process: “This new technology allows us to experiment on the notion of creativity for a machine, and the parallel with the role of the artist in the creation process. The approach invites the observer to consider and evaluate the similarities and distinctions between the mechanics within the human brain, such as the creative process, and the ones of an algorithm. We wish to emphasize the parallel between the input parameters used for training an algorithm, and the expertise and influences that craft the style of an artist. Most of all, we want the viewer to focus on the creative process: an algorithm usually functions by replicating human behavior, but it learns by using a path of its own.”

Richard Lloyd, International Head of Prints & Multiples, comments: “Christie’s continually stays attuned to changes in the art market and how technology can impact the creation and consumption of art. AI has already been incorporated as a tool by contemporary artists and as this technology further develops, we are excited to participate in these continued conversations. To best engage in the dialogue, we are offering a public platform to exhibit an artwork that has entirely been realized by an algorithm.”

In July 2018, Christie’s London staged a symposium on the profound implications of blockchain for artists and collectors. The inaugural technology conference will be an annual event, and AI will very likely be one of the next topics explored. This October, when the Portrait of Edmond de Belamy goes under the hammer in the Prints & Multiples sale it will signal the arrival of AI art on the world auction stage. Proceeds from the sale of this lot will be used to further the collective’s research into training its algorithm and to finance the computation power needed to produce this type of artwork.

About the process:

Obvious is engaged in exploring the interface between art and artificial intelligence, using a method known as a ‘generative adversarial network’ or the acronym GAN. This series is referred to as “La Famille de Belamy,” was named as a tribute to the inventor of GANs, Ian Goodfellow (“Goodfellow” is roughly translated to “Bel ami” in French). Created by an algorithm composed of two parts, The Generator and the Discriminator, the system was fed a data set of 15,000 portraits. The Generator made new images based on the set and the Discriminator reviewed all outputs until it deemed the result imperceptible whether done from a human-hand or attributed to the algorithm. The work included in the October sale is Edmond de Belamy, the ‘youngest’ documented member of the family or the ‘newest’ born creation of the algorithm.

For additional information visit the Christie’s online feature: Is artificial intelligence set to become art’s next medium?