Algorithm art fetches $432,500 at auction

The AI-generated artwork was only expected to sell for $7,000 to $10,000

Photo: Christie's People standing next to "Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy."

A painting created by artificial intelligence (AI) smashed new boundaries, selling for $432,000 at the Christie's Prints and Multiples art auction in New York on Thursday. The art piece, called "Portrait of Edmond Belamy," is the first work of art created entirely by AI to go up for sale at a major art auction and the $432,000 haul was quite the shocker, since it was expected to fetch only between $7,000 and $10,000.

The painting was the work of a type of algorithm known as Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) that was devised by a Paris-based art collective called Obvious. The group fed the algorithm a data set of about 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries. A Generator portion of the algorithm used its understanding of those many works of art to start creating its own images.

Another part of the system, the Discriminator, was tasked with determining the difference between the human-made art and the art being produced by the Generator. This process continued until the Discriminator could no longer tell the works apart, at which point the art collective decided the work was good enough to sell.

The "Portrait of Edmond Belamy" was one of 11 in a series of portraits of non-existent people created by the AI. Obvious Art is selling the other portraits for 10,000 euros each on its website, though the group may start rethinking that price point after the auction. Especially since New York Times reported that works from Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein hung near the AI-generated portrait this week, and sold for $75,000 and $87,500, respectively. Combined, those prices are half of what the bot art went for at the end of the seven-minute bidding process.

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