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Life Cycles

The words ‘life cycle’ and ‘art’ are not something that one usually expects to find together. The former usually refer to biological, chemical or commercial processes; and the latter to those universal and transcendental qualities of beauty and the sublime. However, a closer look into the contemporary art market makes it clear that artworks, like any other commercial product, go through their own life cycles. These begin the moment an artwork is created and then first exhibited; it then enters the bidding process of an auction house and finally reaches its destination as a collectible of high value. Its life cycle is then concluded – until next time.

Georgina Adams explains how rapidly the contemporary art market has grown and expanded across the globe in recent years, far eclipsing the market for modern or historical art. This is partly because of what she calls ‘superstar’ curators and gallery networks that cultivate a celebrity culture at an international scale. At the same time, this market is primarily based on auctions whose profitable activities shape trends not only in terms of which artist is in fashion and what prices one should expect, but also for bigger works of higher visibility and impact. Consequently, the next person who would like to express something through his or her art, better pause and think for a moment. What supply and demand is out there? What kind of work do big galleries take on at the moment and what was the closing bid of Christie’s and Sotheby’s last year? The chances nevertheless of some unknown creator be picked up by a scouting curator are practically nil. But there are those players in the artworld that Adams calls taste-makers (collectors, curators and advisors) who can definitively indicate how the next best seller might look like. After all, the life cycle of a work of art can be a lengthy process.

Consider for example Ulay, a performance artist best known for his collaborations with Marina Abramović. ‘Best known’ that is, because Ulay has a long-standing career of collaborative as well as individual work. He was recently invited by the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and his performance was instantly sold out. His work is now attracting attention, especially his earlier work from the sixties. If there is a product that surely knows how to endure time, it is art. If it is good or bad art, that is another question.