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Art Maintenance


To join Mike’s “what’s the thing” series: consider the rise of ephemeral art:

Repairing and restoring contemporary art can pose novel problems. One example is the 1991 installation piece by Damien Hirst “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” a 14-foot tiger shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde that is considered the seminal work of the Young British Artists movement. Purchased in 2005 by hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen of Greenwich, Conn., from the collection of British advertising tycoon Charles Saatchi for a reported $8 million, the dead shark was rotting from the inside out, causing it to take on a withered appearance and clouding the fluid in the tank.  Last year, Mr. Hirst replaced the original shark with another one at his workshop in England . . . [The piece] hasn’t been regarded as damaged or diminished in value, though the issue is open to question among art historians.

If artworks become like Neurath’s Boat, we might expect all manner of contractual specs to accompany purchases.  The really big ticket items will require some assurance from an artist(‘s estate) that authorized maintenance will occur throughout the life of the work.  Perhaps the real owner of the work will be the person who has the maintenance agreement.  And we can expect the rise of more “young punk capitalists“ whose popularity may well rise with the very ephemerality of their work (the better to conspicuously consume with!):

At first, Koh and Peres made the mistake of selling the work without detailing its fragility. “In our rush, our naïveté, it seemed clear that this work was going to change—I mean, it was made of ashes and chocolate. And collectors would later come and say, ‘This broke, can you fix it?’ ” Peres recalls. “Now, no work of Terence leaves my gallery without a release, because his materials are quite unusual.  

Of course, NYM tries to recast this as purism:

In one sense, this material instability functions as a collector purity test. Because while Koh’s rocketing market invites speculation, only a fool buys perishable work for investment purposes.

My prediction: the “fools” who get maintenance agreements will be the real winners, because they’ll have established a lifelong “relationship” with the artist.