The world's first ever AI gallery

The world's very first AI gallery opened last March. Dead End Gallery, so called because of its location on a dead-end street in the heart of Amsterdam, is an initiative of entrepreneurs Paul Bookelman and Constant Brinkman. With works created by machines and algorithms, they stimulate the discussion about how technology can change the art world. “AI never sleeps.”

Text: Bart-Jan Brouwer

How did this initiative come about?

Constant: “Paul has a background in design, I have a background in big data. We both had our own businesses and had an office in what is now the gallery. Due to corona, a number of employees left and the two of us were left in this room. AI development emerged in parallel. We delved into it independently of each other. We used AI to have dialogue and create art. There was no plan behind it yet, we were playfully investigating how to make the best art. Our artists are born in a kind of natural process.”

How do you create an artist?

Constant: “It must make itself, arise from itself. We actually only asked AI one question, namely 'come up with the name of an artist'. The answer was Irisa Nova. To which we asked: 'Do you want to answer now as Irisa Nova?' Then you start a conversation with her and ask, for example, if she wants to tell you something about her family and where she lives. It turns out that she was born in Greenfield on June 25, 1993 and currently lives in Artisia, eighty kilometers away - a fictional city on the coast, she invented it all. Her sister, Emily Nova, is two years younger and born on the exact same day. Her parents, Sarah Smith and Michael Nova, instilled in her a love of creativity at an early age. This partly led to her studying at the prestigious Art Academy of Artisia. Every time we ask an open question, she tells something about herself and her character builds.”

How does that ultimately express itself in the art that you have here in the gallery?

Constant: “For example, if Irisa tells us that she has an elephant as a pet, we assume that she must have a large garden. Could you make a painting of that? She then gives us all the information about what should be in that painting. She tells us what she wants to see – in order of importance, at our request. We then pass that input on to an image generator and something comes out of it. We show that painting to Irisa, asking if that is her garden. If that is the case, we will show the work to our curator. It is about whether it is good enough to show the work.”

And now you're probably going to tell me that it also concerns a virtual curator...

Constant: “Of course! We have created and trained our own curator in what we want to convey as a gallery. She is American, called Evelyn Montgomery and knows a lot about art. She gives a full explanation about what she sees in the painting, whether it is innovative and important for art history. We taught her to give a value judgment between zero and ten. If it is above eight, we think it is good enough for the gallery.”

How is the sales value determined?

Constant: “We ask the artist himself about the price. He determines that.”

How many artists have you created?

Constant: “Eleven, from Amani Jones and Maxime Dupont to Jaxon Nash and Sophia Perez. And they all have a face. We simply asked: what do you look like? Based on this, the image generator developed portraits. Each artist also has their own signature.”

How is their style evolving?

Constant: “By asking more and more questions. With the answers they establish themselves more and more firmly in a character. For example, we ask what kind of art they have hanging at home. Irisa Nova has one Jackson Pollock at home, two photographs by Ansel Adams and a number of works by Paul Klee, including Twittering Machine. This way we learn which art she prefers. At the same time, because she shows that she loves Paul Klee, she will automatically create more work inspired by him. This is how her style develops. We also asked her if she has a boyfriend. Every week she answered negatively: she needed all her time for art. But at one point she said she had a boyfriend, Chris Taylor. She met him at a vernissage, he makes sculptures of plush animals. Her most recent work features bunnies and eggs, fertility symbols. So we think she wants to get pregnant. In that case, we will soon have our first AI baby!”

When did you know: we have a business model, we are going to start a gallery.

Paul: “I had made a surprise print of one of the works of art for Constant. That thing came in and we both thought, 'Wow, crazy! We have to show this to other people too.' We had about five more works printed and took them to a gallery. There we were told three things: 'It is very beautiful. It's definitely going to sell. But I'm not going to hang it up.' The gallery owner was afraid that he would insult his artists.”
Constant: “The Affordable Art Fair also didn't want us. Simply because they don't know what to do with AI, they don't understand it.”

Because, to what extent is it art?

Constant: “We have that discussion very often. But it is indeed art. Why? Because it makes people happy. They buy it and hang it on the wall at home because it stirs up emotions in them. I think that is a definition of art-worthy objects. Whether they are made by a human or a computer. However, a computer or robot cannot be given intellectual property rights under the law.”

How does the public react to this form of art?

Paul: “I would say: take a look through the guestbook.” (see box)
Constant: “Artists come here every day. They are skeptical at first. But when we tell our story, you see them thaw. We do not see AI as a threat at all, but as an enrichment. It's a new tool, just like Photoshop. You can build a house with a hammer, but you can also bash someone's brains out. It's what you do with it that matters. Use it or lose it. "

What does this tool do exceptionally well?

Constant: “AI is extremely good at developing new ideas and combining styles. And it works very quickly. Look, you can also find all the information you need in a library or encyclopedia. But then you'll be busy for a while. AI has instant access to everything and never sleeps. The only thing AI cannot do is be completely innovative. That's why people call it copied art. But there is no artist or musician who does not also copy and copy.”
Paul: “I bet that in ten years' time AI will also come up with something completely new, which it will then have learned to think out-of-the-box.”
Constant: “According to a professor with whom we lecture, a computer is never-never capable of this transformational creativity, as Margaret A. Boden calls out-of-the-box thinking in her book Creativity and art: three roads to surprise. We think it is possible. We try to trigger this by, for example, offering our artists drugs. 'Would you like to use drugs to... doors of perception to open up and become more creative?' They don't want that, because drugs are unhealthy. But if you then ask them to tell you what hallucinogenic drugs do to your brain, you get a detailed account of what happens in your brain and how your ideas change. We then asked one artist: 'Would you like to pretend that this is happening to you?' The response was positive, he was willing to make art as if he were under the influence of LSD. We got the strangest answers: mountains turned upside down, a flower growing out of a teapot... We gave that to the image generator and we made that picture too. Only it was rejected by our curator. You'll just have it, hahaha!”

Speaking of thinking out-of-the-box: can't you ask your artists if they can also create art that falls outside all styles?

Constant: “That could be possible. We have sometimes asked our artist Maximilian Hoekstra to simulate a mental illness. He then realized that he was schizophrenic and created a work of art based on that. We put that up.”

Will it stick to 2D or will you also make sculptures?

Constant: “We are already working on that, just like with moving images and videos. And the background music in the gallery was also created by AI. To this end, we have hired a Japanese pianist who has composed a number of piano pieces for us. Research shows that playing background music makes people stick around two to three times longer.”

You create what is needed: artists, a curator, a pianist... But will you still be needed yourself?

Constant: “Well, we could indeed develop a virtual Paul or Constant who asks the artists the questions. But I think it would also be nice to come in here and talk to us about this and share knowledge.”

MASTERS Magazine

Curious about the rest of the article? You want this edition of MASTERS. A milestone in print, pushing the boundaries. Innovative. Surprising. Stunning. Including a very extraordinary guest editor. An interview with the man who pointed out to the Ajax Supervisory Board in 2015 the gaps within the organization that have now come to light. Merijn Zeeman explains how Jumbo-Visma has developed into a top sports company. Quoteman Paul van Riessen calculates how much you need to no longer have to work. Sabine Riezebos explains what sets Bernardus apart from other golf courses. A look at the Stratos Yacht yard, where the ultimate boat for carefree sailing pleasure is being built. And also the rise of robots (where is the sex robot?), Fake News and, exclusively in MASTERS: the 'new Doutzen Kroes'.


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