The Obvious collective does not have any route in art. Until a few hours ago, nobody knew the names of its members, Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier, three 25-year-old French youngsters who met at an institute in Rueil-Malmaison, a residential suburb west of Paris. But the three form, since Thursday, part of the history of art, as authors of the first work made from artificial intelligence that is awarded in an auction. The New York headquarters of Christie's he sold one of his paintings, Portrait d'Édouard Belamy (2018), for 432,500 dollars (380,000 euros), between 40 and 60 times above its initial estimate, between 7,000 and 10,000 dollars (between 6,000 and 8,800 euros). The name of the buyer has not transcended, but it was the second best sale of an auction where there were works of Banksy or Jeff Koons. Only exceeded his mark a series of serigraphs of the late stage of Warhol, which was sold for $ 780,500 (685,000 euros).
"We started working on the painting nine months ago, when we found a series of algorithms that surprised us because of their possibilities. We felt that creating a work of art was the best way to demonstrate what an algorithm is capable of ", Vernier reported a few hours after the auction. Despite having no artistic training, the members of Obvious were interested in the issue while working on the programming of an application for collectors, which recommended works based on the user's previous preferences. The auctioned picture required between four and six months of programming. "But, once we had an operational code, the painting was painted in only 24 hours," adds Vernier. The work was created from the so-called GANs -o Generative adversarial networks, antagonistic generative networks-, through a system of two algorithms fed with 15,000 classic portraits, painted between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries.
The collective decided to create a series of eleven portraits of a fictional family from a past time, the Belamy, a free translation into French of the surname of the creator of the algorithm in 2014, Ian Goodfellow. One of them was sold in April to the French collector Nicolas Laugero Lasserre, possessor of a large collection of street art, for 10,000 euros. But, just like the artists enrolled in a more traditional practice, Obvious have not escaped accusations of plagiarism. Another artist, Robbie Barrat, already used the same code to create works of art. The collective admits having used that code, although modifying it. Despite everything, in a statement released after the auction, its three members admitted that Barrat had been "a great influence."
With the trained algorithm, the most lucrative temptation is to make chain copies. "But we do not want to do it, because it would lose its value. We want to make unique works of great value, capable of interesting the world of art, which are not mere copies, "says Vernier. The programmer compares the controversy raised by artificial intelligence with the appearance of the first photographs in the mid-nineteenth century. Then it was also denounced that the result was blurry, that its authors were not real artists and that the invention was going to destroy the creation in capital letters. "We are interested in buyers who ask a philosophical question: is a machine capable of creating the same as a man would do?" Says Vernier. The answer remained in the air.