Art.sy’s doors are still closed to Betabeat, as we signed up for an invite in… May, perhaps? It was a while ago. The startup has had plenty of press since then, as well as a semi-public launch at the Art Basel visual art fair in Switzerland over the summer. The product remains in closely-held beta, however. But some details slipped out in an article in December’s issue of Wired, the latest in Art.sy’s extremely successful press run.
If you type in the word “Wednesday,” for example, the auto-complete function might suggest the work Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, a photograph by American photographer Alec Soth, who is known for his stark images of modern America, particularly portraiture. Ash Wednesdaydepicts a tattooed woman with bright red hair and an ash cross on her forehead, all framed by gray gloom and a metal fence. Below, Art.sy recommends other works by Soth: prints of a woman at a supermarket counter, of a trailer, of the facade of a red, white, and blue pawn shop.
Using Ash Wednesday as a starting point, the software then presents other, genetically similar works. Since Soth’s image carries a strong gene for “contemporary photographic portraiture,” Art.sy suggests pieces by Sally Mann and Bill Jacobson, two American photographers also known for their melancholic portraits. Art.sy also spots a strong “documentation of social life” gene for Ash Wednesday, and so it returns a few results for another American photographer, Brian Ulrich, known for his work on consumer culture, and for Jean Pigozzi, an Italian millionaire who has found great acclaim photographing his friends.
Adelyn, Ash Wednesday also carries the “contemporary” and “realism” genes, which help to suggest some more works. Finally, since all of the artworks have been analyzed by computer vision software as well as a team of human experts, Art.sy is able to recommend other art—not just photography but work in any medium—that employs a similar color palette. One of these turns out to be a painting of a Parisian scene done in 1900 by American artist Everett Shinn.
Artists, too, are assigned genetic makeups. A search on Art.sy for “Jeff Koons,” an American known widely for his giant reproductions of balloon animals, shows that he displays strong “contemporary pop” tendencies. This makes him similar to Takashi Murakami, a younger Japanese artist, and—when married with Koons’ strong gene for “provocative”—leads Art.sy to also recommend works from Ai Weiwei, the famous Chinese dissident and artist. Koons’ focus on consumerism and pop culture suggests that he was inspired by the midcentury pop art movement, particularly artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselmann.
All that computation is thanks to Art.sy’s 550 art “genes,” which are set out in basically a spreadsheet, according to Wired. Artworks are rated on each gene with a number between 1 and 100. Cool! But we’re eager to see it. “Honestly, they need to just get on with it. I’ve never heard of such a press kick for a company that hasn’t done anything yet with an idea that is, at best, half-baked,” said a source familiar with the art industry. Indeed, the pre-launch startup has had coverage in TechCrunch, New York, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Observer. But we know why Art.sy is happy to bask in the media’s sunshine: CEO Carter Cleveland is one of the smoothest hustlers we ever saw when it comes to recruiting.