Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy.
Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP / Getty Images
Last night Christie did it again! The auction house sold a dubious object for an astronomical price.
Last year, the company sold a $ 450 million portrait that is said to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, a work many now suspect might have been painted by a studio assistant or a follower, at best , or even just one adept copyist with great attendance since the recent total restoration and the Christie & # 39; s worldwide public relations campaign. This time, something that was estimated at $ 7,000 to $ 10,000 was reduced to more than 40 times the inflated price, $ 432,000. The play? What Christie claimed was the "first portrait generated by an algorithm for auction".
Before it was sold to an anonymous bidder in France, it was obvious that Christie smelled a day of payment in the making of the painting, called Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy. The house announced that the work was "in the scrutiny" and "in a golden frame", granted interviews, disseminated information, contacted the press and clients, made several private presentations and public demonstrations, and installed the work between Warhol and Lichtenstein to increase the price. and grant cred. In this world, set design really works. In a few days, Christie has been able to make something happen that probably the buyer never saw in person, or investigated and falsely promoted as "the first" of this type, about someone who is willing to take the bait. This opens the doors for more of the same. Mission accomplished, by Christie.
The work was carried out by a French group of students of "machine learning" and "business school". They are known by the appropriate name Obvious. (You can not invent these things). The image is a typical image printed in ink on canvas printed by computer. Visually, in terms of surface and scale, it's like any other image / paint / print like this that I've seen, 100 percent generic. This shows a blurred portrait of a man dressed in black with an austere white collar. He has long dark hair in an old style in a page cut. All unfinished around the edges, resembles a blurry Dutch portrait of the seventeenth century. In the new york Times Someone has already compared it to a Rembrandt. Actually, it's a poster.
The method used to make the poster has been widely used inside and outside the art world for a long time. It is an open source program called GAN. Obvio fed a computer with around 15,000 portraits painted between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries. Then, the machine was programmed to create a common optical denominator from the data and print it. Click on print, ready.
The big shot of Christie who took the work to an auction says he did not know anything about the so-called "art of AI", joking: "I just responded and I thought it was great." Then, he said: "We are the people who sold the Leonardo for $ 450 million." In fact, Christie & # 39; s told the Times that this is "a good way to facilitate buyers … the work done with AI". So much for integrity, research, research and transparency.
What makes this sale completely false is not just that the poster looks like a lousy Larry Rivers painting from the 1950s, or that since the 1970s Sol LeWitt was generating written instructions that others used to make their art, or that the process used here is a standard exercise for art students and computer programmers – is that these programs and algorithmic codes have been in use for a long time so that the Exactly the same things you are looking for. Some of them are "on the canvas" and "golden frames". An expert in the field rightly mocked that Christie's work is "AI Art 101".
They are right I have seen the process done with landscapes, flowers, dogs, movie stars, clouds, buildings and food. This poster is an individual image, but it is not uncommon to see it done in grids or series of printed images. People have done it with Hollywood blockbusters organized by superheroes, colors, scenarios and even credits. It has been made with pornographic films that represent an Ur-orgy, a superstar or a set of sexual fetishes. I have seen all the abstract paintings reduced to a meta-abstraction and I have seen them finished with these same abstract paintings that endlessly transform into one like that of a hypnotic screen protector. Benjamin Edwards has been doing it in paintings since the late 1990s, compiling all the Starbucks in Seattle, for example, into a wild structure. Artists Jason Salavon and the late Jeremy Blake were doing this kind of thing on video and painting back then as well. It is said that Julie Mehretu's paintings are hand-made versions of the same strategies of visual superposition. Actually, this generic tic has never existed since this type of digital files, compiled images, found images and captured images became a genre. The famous photographer Thomas Ruff has made, displayed and sold images like this for almost 20 years. In other words, it is a blatant lie that this is the "first portrait generated by an algorithm to auction". The question is, why did so many collectors go crazy over that?