Selling a Sculpture

In the current New Yorker magazine, Rebecca Mead reports on a work being auctioned at Christie’s:  “‘Flying Rats,’ by the French-Algerian artist Kader Attia. It consists of a hundred-and-fifty-square-foot cage, a couple of dozen figures of children molded from birdseed, and a hundred and fifty hungry pigeons.”

Not the sort of thing to catch my eye on most days, except for this description of how the sale will be consummated:

The work, which Cappellazzo described as “being about the innocence of childhood as something that is elusive and phantomlike,” goes on sale this week, for a price estimated at between sixty thousand and eighty thousand dollars. The buyer receives neither cage nor birds nor birdseed children but a certificate permitting the future staging of the work, along with a series of photographs of the Lyons installation. The cost to Christie’s of building the coop, buying eight hundred and twenty-five pounds of birdseed, and hiring the birds has been about equal to the estimated purchase price.

If the buyer doesn’t get the sculpture itself, then in what sense has the sculpture been sold?  The New Yorker story says that the buyer’s certificate “permits” the future staging of the work, but I hope that’s a journalistic slip.  It is certainly conceivable that the artist is selling nonexclusive licenses for $60,000 to $80,000 apiece, but improbable; each buyer likely would be surprised to find Flying Rats in other collections around the world. 

Specifically, then, what does this certificate say?  Is Christie’s auctioning the copyright?  Is it selling certain rights (reproduction and public display, for example)?  Does the purchaser get an exclusive license? 

4 thoughts on “Selling a Sculpture

  1. Plus: what is the involvement of the artist in any “authorized” restaging — either promised or required? The article doesn’t indicate that Attia was on the scene supervising the installation at Christie’s. I can see some buyers wanting the sculptor’s direct involvement to be part of the deal, and others wanting potentially temperamental French-Algerian performance artists to stay clear of the next installation. And, on the other side, how much influence (if any) is Attia reserving? Does he reserve any French-style moral rights?

    I agree, I’d love to see this contract.

    And now I see why you want to cancel Wired, Mike — you’re too busy keeping up with the new Yorker!

  2. I confess a long-time weakness for TNY. I read it for the articles. Really.

    I found an email address for Rebecca Mead and sent off a request, but the message bounced.

  3. Note that unlike Wired the TNY does not cost $12 a year and will never send you a CueCat. Evidently, though, they offer some kind of “good writing” as part of the deal that they believe is valuable.

    Perhaps the auction is performance art? 😉

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