The portrait, created using an artificial intelligence algorithm, was sold for more than 43 times the highest estimate of its expected auction price.
It is the first time an AI-generated portrait has sold at auction. The rather stylised portrait was expected to sell for between US$7,000 and $10,000 at Christie’s in New York.
However, an anonymous bidder decided to make world history and cause a stir in the art world by paying well over half-a-million dollars.
According to Christie’s website, this heralds “the arrival of AI art on the world auction stage.”
The artwork, simply titled ‘Portrait of Edmond Belamy”, was created using a generated adversarial network (GAN) algorithm.
The GAN is programmed to create and combine copies of patterns it discerns in a set of data.
In this case the data included a set of 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries. After the copies were made, a second network acted as a discriminator, assessing the work to determine differences between the originals and the newly generated images.
The dual networks then pass the generated image back and forth until it’s deemed complete.
When it comes to the official creator of the somewhat controversial work, the jury is still out.
left: the "AI generated" portrait Christie's is auctioning off right now
right: outputs from a neural network I trained and put online *over a year ago*.
Does anyone else care about this? Am I crazy for thinking that they really just used my network and are selling the results? pic.twitter.com/wAdSOe7gwz
— Robbie Barrat (@DrBeef_) October 25, 2018
While the portrait was generated by AI, the AI was created by artist and programmer Robbie Barrat, but the AI was used by three members of Paris-based art collective Obvious. It’s like artist inception.
For the meantime, the three members of Obvious have been credited with the portrait’s creation. The group has been accused of failing to give full credit to Barrat, the algorithm’s creator.
It seems that the true artist, the AI algorithm, is remaining politely silent on the issue, and is unlikely to get a look-in when it comes to ownership.