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France’s robot artist first to create AI painting sold at auction

A French tech-art company that uses Artificial Intelligence to create paintings that look like they are the work of humans is going to be the first in the world to sell robotic artwork at auction.

France's robot artist first to create AI painting sold at auction
Photos: Obvious and Christie's

Despite its name, French art collective Obvious is everything but what its moniker suggests.

Three 25-year-old Frenchmen -Hugo Caselles-Dupré, Pierre Fautrel and Gauthier Vernier- are behind this AI technology that paints works of art that could easily be impressionist pieces crafted by a skilled human hand.

And while Obvious is not the only startup using Artificial Intelligence to create artwork (there’s now an annual RobotArt fair with submissions from all around the world), they can claim to be the first gallery to have had one of their paintings sold at auction.

The above portrait of a stout French nobleman in Renaissance-style clothing is expected to fetch $10,000 at Christie’s, the iconic New York auction, next October.

The artistic tech trio used a two-part algorithm, called a Generative Adversarial Network, to create this painting and a number of similar works of the fictional Belamy family — a play on bel ami (handsome friend in French).

They first uploaded to the system 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries and with this visual data the generator part of the algorithm was able to start creating artworks.

And while by no means are they claiming the AI’s chef d’oeuvre is as detailed and captivating as the works of Monet, Renoir or Cassat, they do think the robot art is good enough to fool an occasional museumgoer.

That’s because the other part of the algorithm is programmed to ditch any paintings that it can tell aren't man-made.

‘We found that portraits provided the best way to illustrate our point, which is that algorithms are able to emulate creativity,” Caselles-Dupré told Christie's press team.


 

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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