Now you can, it turns out. But what do you get for your cash? Chris Carter reports
There was a time when the point of performance art was to get punters through the doors of art galleries. It was ephemeral. There was nothing “tangible” to sell. Prospective buyers would have wondered what it was they were actually supposed to be buying. That question looks to have been answered.
A fortnight ago, “A Performance Affair”, a four-day art fair, brought together 30 performance artists in Brussels. British conceptual artist David Rickard sat in a shop window, wearing a respirator mask attached to a silver balloon. As Rickard breathed, the balloon inflated. Once the balloon was fully puffed up, Rickard tied it off and started anew. By the time the art work, entitled Exhaust, had run its course, Rickard aimed to have inflated around 100 balloons. “Eight years ago, we’d just sell limited-edition photographs of the performance,” Will Lunn, the director of the London-based Copperfield gallery, tells Scott Reyburn in The New York Times. At this fair – the second of its kind – “you can acquire the performance”. A one-off enactment of Exhaust, complete with documentation, the balloons and respirator, costs €10,000.
Belgian artist Ariane Loze was also at the fair, sat at a table laid with china plates and cups. Her piece, Le Banquet, had the artist voicing different characters at a stuffy, bourgeois dinner party. For €495, the collector receives a limited edition set of the scripts. Evann Siebens, a Vancouver-based former ballet dancer, whose work involves gestures, captures the performance in a video, which is uploaded onto a memory stick and placed inside a presentation box for €1,000.
A market in experiences
For all of the billions of pounds-worth of art that passes under the hammers at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, not one has been an item of live performance art, notes Reyburn. Yet, with the rise of social media, and the growing trend that values experiences over material things, it’s a section of the art market that is growing. This year’s Brussels’ fair featured seven more artists than in 2018.
“The fair’s founders, Liv Vaisberg and Will Kerr, are hoping to help build a sustainable market around the genre,” says Kate Brown on Artnet News. So this year, for the first time, the performances had to conform to a schedule and the exhibitors had to spell out how the work could be “reactivated once acquired” and whether the objects in the piece were included in the sale.
Serbian artist Marina Abramovic is someone who has proven that performance artists can achieve greatness in their careers. She “is an art-world superstar, a pioneer of performance”, says Mark Brown in The Guardian. Yet even she would perhaps struggle to fulfill that last requirement concerning the objects in performances – especially when it comes to her 1977 work Imponderabilia – had she ever tried to “sell” them. The Royal Academy (no less) is recreating the performance as part of a retrospective next year. The performance involves the “art viewer” attempting to squeeze through a narrow doorway flanked by a man and a woman, both of whom are naked. And not an object in sight.
The art of paying less tax
Businesses could be enjoying tax breaks if only they used more frequently a scheme that allows for art donations in lieu of cash payments, says Edward Harley, who chairs the government’s “acceptance in lieu” panel. This year’s report from the group found that a number of museums and galleries, particularly outside London, have benefited from individuals gifting £60m so far via the scheme.
Artworks that some institutions might not otherwise have been able to afford on the open market, including portraits by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens and English painter William Hogarth, are now in their collections. A Damien Hirst sculpture, Chippendale furniture and the archives of Labour politicians Clement Attlee and Tony Benn have also been submitted. A Bernardo Bellotto painting of Venice on Ascension Day settled the most tax, worth £7m. The painting went to the English Heritage-administered Audley End house in Essex.
Harley believes big businesses could be sitting on much more. “We would welcome take-up from larger corporations,” he says. “We hope that more companies will choose to use the scheme and so contribute to protecting the UK’s cultural heritage.” The trouble is that corporations such as BP have come in for a lot of criticism for their gifts, notes David Sanderson in The Times. It’s doesn’t exactly induce firms to give more.
A fully functioning nine-foot replica of the King Richard I steam train is going up for auction with Dreweatts in Donnington, Berkshire, on Tuesday. The 7.25-inch gauge train is a model of the green-liveried locomotive that plied the Great Western Railway in the 1920s, and was finally taken out of service in 1962 to be scrapped. It has a copper boiler, along with miniature pressure gauge, brakes, lamps and water tanks, “so it can produce steam and run” just like the real thing, says Michael Matthews of Dreweatts. It is expected to sell for £80,000.
A tiny Fabergé sedan chair, made between 1899 and 1903, fetched £380,000 at the Cotswold Auction Company last week. It had been bought for £75 in the 1920s by a Mr Wollcombe-Boyce, and had remained in his family ever since. At just three inches high, it is one of a small number of scale furniture models made by the famous Russian jewellers. It had been given a pre-auction estimate of up to £100,000.