World’s First Mixed Reality Artwork from Marina Abramović Comes Under the Christie’s Hammer

Liz Catalano
Published on

In February of 2019, visitors to London’s Serpentine Galleries found themselves face-to-face with a holographic version of Marina Abramović. The Serbian conceptual artist had created her first Mixed Reality (MR) performance to be viewed through a headset. Audience members were able to watch as a digital Abramović walked around an enclosed space in a bright red dress.

Unlike virtual reality experiences, MR maintains a link to the physical world while the headset is on. “Marina is performing in the same orientation for everybody in the same way. If you are seeing her from the front, someone else is seeing it from the back,” director Todd Eckert told Dezeen after the performance debuted. Abramović collaborated with Eckert’s MR production company, Tin Drum, to create the piece.

This October, one edition of Abramović’s The Life will come to auction. This is the world’s first MR performance art piece available for private purchase. The Life will be presented in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on October 22nd, 2020, at 7:00 PM BST (2:00 PM EDT). The event is part of Christie’s 20th Century: London to Paris auction series and coincides with London’s Frieze Week.

Marina Abramović, The Life, 2019. Image from Christie’s.
Marina Abramović, The Life, 2019. Image from Christie’s.

The Life can be seen as a virtual continuation of The Artist Is Present, Abramović’s 2010 performance at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the earlier work, Abramović silently gazed into the eyes of over 1,500 museum visitors. Over 800,000 more came simply to observe. The artist is not physically present in the new digital format but instead allows the viewer’s gaze to continue unreciprocated.

In Abramović’s view, this is a natural next step in her long-running career. She has spent the last 50 years pushing the boundaries of art, from her provocative Rhythm 0 performance in 1974 to her close collaborations with German performance artist Ulay. “I believe that art of the future is art without objects,” Abramović said in a short film co-created with Christie’s. “It is just pure transmission of energy between the viewer and artist.”

Marina Abramović during The Artist Is Present, 2010. Image from the artist.
Marina Abramović during The Artist Is Present, 2010. Image from the artist.

Using the MR format addresses the main problem of performance art: it cannot be experienced in the same way twice. A performance can be photographed or recorded, but the work is fundamentally changed. Moving to a virtual platform allows the act to outlive both the initial recording and the artist herself.

The winning bidder of The Life will obtain the MR performance along with the necessary technology to view it. “If you’re a collector, you’re trying to find works that break new ground. We, here at Christie’s, believe that this is that,” says Alex Marshall, the auction house’s West Coast Vice President.

The piece is offered with an estimate of GBP 400,000 to £800,000 (USD 516,000 – $1,032,000). If bidding reaches even the low estimate, the sale of this work will surpass Abramović’s current auction record of USD 365,000. For now, that record belongs to a 12-print set of photographs sold by Christie’s in 2015.

Marina Abramović and director Todd Eckert. Image from Christie’s.
Marina Abramović and director Todd Eckert. Image from Christie’s.

In an unusual move, Abramović decided to consign The Life directly to the auction house. The timing was intended to match her major retrospective at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, now postponed until late 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That exhibition will mark the Royal Academy’s first time featuring a woman artist in the main gallery in over 250 years. Despite the delays, Abramović reportedly hopes that it will be “the best show of my life.”

Until that exhibition opens, the public can freely enjoy Abramović’s most recent work while social distancing. Christie’s London is allowing visitors to experience The Life by appointment in the two weeks leading up to the auction, while the winning bidder can view the 19-minute performance at any time.

The Life will be available alongside works by David Hockney, Damien Hirst, and Anish Kapoor in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale. The full catalog can be found on the Christie’s website. Seven other Christie’s auctions will take place consecutively between October 22nd and 23rd in London and Paris.