Teenager’s Code Used by Arthouse to Create $432,500 Piece of Art

The portrait is titled "Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy."

An algorithm created by American Robbie Barrat was used by French collective OBVIOUS to produce a $432,500 piece of art. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

A ghostlike portrait created by a teenager’s computer code sold at a Christie’s auction last month for $432,500 — and he probably won’t see a cent of it.

Robbie Barrat posted a recipe for artificial intelligence online not long after graduating from high school that was allegedly picked up and slightly altered by a Parisian art collective called Obvious, Wired reported. The code was then used to create the piece of art, titled “Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy.”

At first, Barrat was frustrated — to say the least —when he learned about Obvious and the art they created with his code, but he was beside himself after learning how much it sold for.

Barrat told Wired he posted his code online to “help and inspire others” but that Obvious went too far by profiting from recreating his work.

“It’s a very awful situation,” he said.

Barrat taught himself to code and work with neural networks to create artworks and music out of his West Virginia home. His dabbling into the world of AI art are built off a technique known as Generative Adversarial Networks, which was created by Google.

At first, Obvious tried to say the piece was created using their own network, but LinkedIn profile interactions showed that one member of the French group, Hugo Caselles-Dupré, “repeatedly prodded Barrat to update his code,” Wired reported. Months later, Obvious credited Barrat for creating the code — a day before the auction.

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