Richard Lloyd: Art + Intelligence Meets Artificial Intelligence
By Margot Clark-Junkins
Like lots of Rye folks, when Richard Lloyd heads to work he hops on a train to the city. Catching up on his emails on the train one morning, Lloyd came across an interesting artnet News article about a collector named Nicolas Laugero-Lasserre, who had just purchased a work of art created with AI (artificial intelligence).
A Paris-based art collective called Obvious had made a series of portraits using a GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) algorithm. These algorithms learn patterns from large data sets and then produce new examples based on these patterns. Obvious created the series by feeding in 15,000 images of portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries. The result was the de Belamy Family, a make-believe aristocratic family, whose portraits you could imagine gracing the walls of an 18th-century chateau in the Loire Valley.
As International Head of the Prints & Multiples Department at Christie’s New York, the famed auction house, Lloyd gets to spend his days reading about art, looking at art, researching art, speaking with collectors and, of course, auctioning art.
It was during time gifted to him by Metro-North while waiting at the Rye station (‘the train to Grand Central is running 10-15 minutes late’) that Lloyd had a brilliant idea: Why not approach the same Paris-based art collective described in that article to see if they would consign one of the series to be auctioned at Christie’s? It would be the first time ever that an A.I. work would be offered at a major auction house. The members of Obvious were thrilled and offered the portrait of Edmond de Belamy.
The image produced by the process is a digital file, which Obvious printed on canvas and signed with the GAN algorithm. The finishing touch was a really (really) nice frame.
Christie’s estimated the work would sell for $7,000-10,000, but no one really knew what to expect. It has been noted that digital art and videos and works using virtual reality have been popular in galleries and at biennials, but are almost never seen at auction, so the sale attracted a lot of media attention. Lloyd was interviewed on “CBS This Morning,” The New York Times, and many other top-name news outlets.
Lloyd posed for us at The Rye Free Reading Room to prove he wasn’t always thinking up cool ideas on a train, and agreed to answer a few questions for The Rye Record:
<Who bought the work, how much did it go for at auction, and do you know which country it will reside in?>
It made $432,500! We cannot reveal who the buyer is at the moment. There’s a good chance that they will want to make an announcement at some point in the near future.
<How did you learn about the collective who made it?>
I subscribe to the artnet newsletter (which I’d highly recommend) and saw a story about a Paris-based digital art collective selling a work created with artificial intelligence to a collector for €10,000 — basically, the article asked if the collector was mad or extremely smart. I liked their work and contacted them to see if they would be prepared to offer another example from the same series in one of our auctions.
<What does the collective hope to work on next?>
They were planning to work on landscape subjects, but the huge amount of money they now have as a result of the sale will likely dramatically change their plans. Apparently working with A.I. can be very costly, since it requires huge amounts of computing power. Now they can work with much greater volumes of data at much higher resolution.
<Do you consider it a print or a painting?>
It’s a digital artwork that was printed on canvas, but the final format isn’t the most important aspect. It’s like the difference between a paperback and an audiobook. It’s the text which is the distinctive element, not the physical format. In this case, it’s the digital image produced by the algorithm. It could have stayed as a digital file.
Can you riff on any parallels you may see in Banksy’s shredded artwork and the auction of an AI work?
Many people have tried to correlate the two, but I don’t see any parallels, apart from them both being newsworthy. I think the Banksy event was an intriguing piece of showmanship, which was great for his brand. The A.I. work was much more profound. It won’t be too long before computer algorithms are engaged in all areas of creative activity – from composing music to writing novels and screenplays. This is just the beginning.
Is the deconstruction of art finally, completely, deconstructed?
Nope. Creativity is just as constructive as ever. Art is still being made, just with new tools as well as old.
Where can an artist go/what can be made using A.I.?
We haven’t even begun to see the capabilities of A.I. The possibilities are almost limitless. What I hoped to come from the sale was increased awareness of the power of A.I. It’s already part of our lives, with Siri and Alexa and GPS systems. But computers are now encroaching on creativity, which many of us see as one of the defining factors of what it means to be human.
Photo by Sian Roath