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Marina Abramović, The Life
Marina Abramović, The LifeCourtesy of Marina Abramović and Tin Drum

A Marina Abramović sale could break new ground for virtual-reality art

Next year, Christie’s will offer the artist’s The Life, the first mixed-reality artwork to go to auction

In the age of AI and other rapidly-developing digital technologies, you can take a selfie with a deepfake Salvador Dalí. The Mona Lisa has been brought to life, chatting away like she’s on the talking heads section of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. But, with all these technological advances and the artwork they’ve spawned, comes one of the art world’s biggest questions: how do you sell it?

In terms of answering this question, Christie’s seems to be leading the charge. The auction house will offer the first mixed-reality artwork – where the viewer’s experience of the outside world is combined with the virtual via a headset – in an October 2020 London auction, in the form of Marina Abramović’s The Life.

In The Life – which is estimated to fetch around $775,000 – the artist is present (very on brand). At least, her avatar is, as it floats in and out of sight around the installation. The 19-minute piece is all the result of an extensive capture process that involved Abramović’s body being shot by 32 different cameras linked with “a sophisticated algorithmic system”, according to Christie’s.

When the artwork premiered at London’s Serpentine Galleries, it gained polarising responses, to say the least. The Guardian reviewer Jonathan Jones calls it “a pointless perversion that hurts your eyes” (aw) but it can also be argued that the integration of the new technology is a natural progression for Abramović, who has long toyed with the theme of immortalisation.

“A hundred years beyond when anybody who ever knew (Marina) was alive, there will be people who will see her walk into the room and will feel that sense of connection, of human experience,” says Todd Eckert, founder of the production studio Tin Drum, which collaborated with Abramović on both the artwork and its sale. 

The eventual buyer of the boundary-pushing lot will receive the recording of the piece along with “wearable spatial computing devices”. First, though, The Life will tour internationally, with details to be released in Spring 2020.

For now, you can revisit Marina Abramović speaking earlier this year about becoming an avatar and her prophecy for the next 100 years.