Art Market

Christie’s will offer a mixed reality artwork by Marina Abramović.

Christy Kuesel
Nov 21, 2019 5:28PM, via Financial Times

Marina Abramović and Todd Eckert. Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

Christie’s will auction off Marina Abramović’s The Life (2019), making it the first auction house to sell a mixed reality work. It’s estimated to bring in £600,000 ($774,000) next October during the auction house’s Frieze Week sales in London. The work, which was first shown at the Serpentine Gallery this past February, requires viewers to put on special eyewear that allows them to observe the gallery space and each other, while a hologram of Abramović walks around the space and disappears at seemingly random intervals.

The Serpentine exhibition opened to mixed reviews: The Evening Times described the 19-minute performance as “strangely riveting,” while Guardian writer Jonathan Jones called it a “pointless perversion that hurts your eyes.” Abramović said the work revolves around the theme of immortality, “because you are there, preserved forever,” according to a Christie’s press release.

According to The Art Newspaper, the buyer of the work will receive a recording of the performance and the wearable devices that make the virtual Abramović viewable, all certified by the artist. The work exists in three editions; Abramović will keep an additional artist’s proof. The Life reportedly cost £1 million ($1.2 million) to make, and involved 32 cameras to capture the artist in motion.

The sale is unusual not only for the unusual medium of the work, but also because the auction house will sell a work consigned directly by the artist; usually, primary market sales are reserved for galleries. Abramović and Todd Eckert, director of The Life, will benefit from the sale, which will coincide with Abramović’s major show at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. The Life will tour internationally before the sale.

While the sale will mark the auction debut for a mixed reality artwork, auction houses in general—and Christie’s in particular—have been testing the market for high-tech art in recent years. In 2018, a portrait generated by an artificial intelligence sold for more than 40 times its high estimate at Christie’s in New York. Earlier this year, Sotheby’s tried and failed to generate similar excitement for a piece of AI art.

Further Reading: What You Need to Know about Collecting Virtual-Reality Art

Christy Kuesel