ARTnewsletter Archive

Broad Interest in Abramovic Performances Fuels Rising Market

Performance art occupies a unique niche in the art market. Material typically sold from performances includes videos, photos or other documentation as well as objects used in those works.

NEW YORK—Performance art occupies a unique niche in the art market. Material typically sold from performances includes videos, photos or other documentation as well as objects used in those works. Sales of pieces by Marina Abramovic (b. 1946), who is the subject of a major 40-year retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, through May 31, have long been robust, and have recently become even stronger, according to her longtime dealer, Sean Kelly.

Abramovic’s last show at the Sean Kelly Gal­lery, “Balkan Erotic Epic,” in 2005–6, consisted of videos and photos. Kelly noted that “prices have gone up considerably” since then. Prices for still images range from $60,000 to $150,000, depending on the size and the image. Videos of performances from the ’70s sell for $200,000; videos of more recent ones sell for $80,000/100,000.

The MoMA retrospective, “The Artist Is Pres­ent,” includes sound pieces, video works, installations, photographs, and solo and collaborative performances (re-created by several performers). Among these works are films showing the artist submitting her body to extreme physical stress: screaming until she loses her voice, dancing naked until she collapses from exhaustion or lying in a star-shaped ring of fire that causes her to lose consciousness as a result of oxygen deprivation.

Abramovic is scheduled to perform daily in the MoMA exhibition. Seated at a table in the museum’s second-floor atrium, she re-creates the performance piece Nightsea Crossing, which she initially created with her former partner, German-born artist Ulay, in the 1970s. Museum visitors are invited to sit quietly across from her for as long as they wish (the line of visitors waiting to participate on a recent Sunday was quite long).

There are three periods in the artist’s career, Kelly told ARTnewsletter: the early work, work made with Ulay (pronounced “Oo-lie”) and work after Ulay. Photographs and videos of the early performances, from 1970 to 1976, are “much rarer, less easy to get, and so are priced higher.” One notable early work, Rhythm O, 1974, which was performed in Naples, Italy, involved the artist standing passively in a gallery for six hours. Visitors were permitted to do anything they wanted with her, using any of 72 objects—including a loaded gun, an axe, nails, chains, a hammer, needles, scissors and a saw, among other items—placed on a table in front of her. During that six hours, she was stripped, painted, cut and crowned with thorns; the loaded gun was placed in her hand and aimed at her head.

In addition to photographs and videos, sculptures and large-scale installations that have been part of her performances are also offered for sale, says Kelly. Prices range from $80,000/100,000 and up for sculptures to $100,000/750,000 for installations.

Abramovic now lives in the United States, and has “a very strong market” here, according to Kelly, who has been her principal dealer since 1990. However, he added, there are also many collectors of her work in Europe, South America and Asia.

Kelly told ARTnewsletter that “very few people who own the work sell it.” The highest auction price to date is $79,500, paid for the video Cleaning the Mirror I, 1995, at Christie’s in New York in 1999 (estimate: $40,000/60,000). Other top prices include $61,684, for Relation in Space, 1976, a group of seven black-and-white photographs, at Christie’s in London in 2007 (estimate: $19,400/29,000), and $29,937 for the photograph Balkan Baroque, 1997, at Christie’s in London in 2008 (estimate: $7,900/11,900).