Christie’s recently held the first-ever auction of artwork created by artificial intelligence (AI). The AI-generated piece, which involved some minimal human intervention by Paris-based art collective Obvious, shocked the art world by selling for $432,500, more than 40 times the official estimates.
Rival auction house Sotheby’s was next to take the stage in the AI-generated art sales arena. On March 06, the London based auction house took bids for a piece by German computer scientist Mario Klingemann, entitled Memories of Passersby I. The computer-generated artwork uses algorithms to create an AI brain that projects an endless stream of distorted faces onto two screens. Sotheby’s initial estimate for the sale was approximately $39,000, but the piece ended up going for $51,012.
The AI-generated art trend is creating a lot of interesting questions around the future of art and art insurance. Uncertainties around how artwork should be valued, authenticated, and protected are just some of the challenges that art insurers will have to deal with moving forwards, but these aren’t necessarily new challenges, according to Claire Marmion, CEO of Haven Art Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PURE Insurance .
“Artists have been challenging us for years with different, difficult and creative ideas,” she said. “Just think about Yves Klein’s International Klein Blue, a concept he came up with in the late 1950s and brought to market in the 1960s, in which he created a pure pigment using ultramarine that cannot be touched by human hands. That’s just one example of a weird and wonderful way that an artist has challenged the art insurance space in the second half of the 20th century. Moving forward, I’m not sure the challenges presented by AI-generated art are so different to some of the other things we’ve had to deal with in the last 20 or 30-years.”
With AI-generated art, the valuation part for the insurance industry is relatively simple, according to Marmion. The insurer calculates the premium based on the sale value of the piece. However, questions can start to arise around liability, risk mitigation, and also how quickly the value of the AI-artwork will accelerate or decelerate in the future compared to other categories of art.
“One of the interesting things about Klingemann’s Memories of Passersby I is the physicality of the piece,” Marmion told Insurance Business. It’s essentially an opportunity to see an artificial brain in action. The artist has created a feedback loop between two screens – one that creates the image and the other that responds – and viewers get to interact with the thought process. What becomes the risk management for an artwork like that?
“If it’s on a video screen, you’re going to be thinking about the risk management in the same way as you might with a Bill Viola exhibit or another video piece. With Klingemann’s AI-brain, there might be additional risks with the algorithm itself. How do you know if the algorithm or the artificial brain is somehow malfunctioning? If that happens, does that constitute a damage to the work of art, or is it simply an extension to the performance and how the artwork is presenting itself?”
Art insurers and risk managers also have to consider the physical piece of the AI-generated artwork and how the algorithm and machine becomes part of that artwork. This needs to be treated differently to the digital works of art created in the last 20-years or so, which have essentially frozen in time.
Marmion explained: “If a museum has some digital artwork from the 1980s, the challenge they’ve got is making sure they still have the technology – the cords, wires and plugs – to be able to still play it on a machine that might be defunct 20-years from now. With this artificial brain piece, you have the structure that supports the piece, but then you also have the brain, which keeps on thinking by itself. That’s an interesting thing to get your head around as an art insurer.”
Art insurers and risk managers have been in the “front-line trenches” with regards to emerging risks for many years, according to Marmion. Art, by its very nature, is the expression or application of human creativity and imagination. Insuring art requires equal amounts of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.