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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SAY WHAT?: Artists Must Literally Be Dying to Sell Work




In 1986, my friend Zhenya volunteered to participate in the cleanup of the Chernobyl catastrophe. For that, he received the official status of Chernobyl "liquidator," which comes with all sorts of state subsidies and privileges - and leukemia. At 42, Zhenya looks 70. Each year, he has to spend more than six months in the hospital.


When he is not attached to an IV-drip, Zhenya is a sculptor. He is little-known, but when he is not busy making banal sculptures for people with big wallets and bad taste, he turns iron and bronze into expressive and beautiful abstract forms.


Until recently, Zhenya was barely able to make ends meet with his art. But earlier this year, a Dutch art collector walked into Zhenya's studio and bought every single piece of art that Zhenya had not been able to sell. The Dutchman showed up again the next month, and the next month and the next, every time sweeping the shelves in Zhenya's studio clean.


Did my friend's art pluck the strings of the art collector's soul? Not quite. On one of his visits to Zhenya's studio last month, the Dutchman explained the root of his passion for my friend's sculptures in the most sincere terms. "Art by a dead Chernobyl liquidator from Russia can be sold for a lot of money," he said in broken Russian. "And you - you are going to die soon."


"A good artist is a dead artist," my artist boyfriend bitterly repeats, usually after the money a customer offers for one of his paintings does not meet his expectations. Although he does not support the Dutchman's strategy, he acknowledges it is not deprived of logic.


But what if Zhenya gets to live longer than the Dutch art collector expects him to? Impatient to make money off his investment, will he take action to actually turn Zhenya into "a dead Chernobyl liquidator"?


A dead artist is a good artist, indeed, and history proves it. Take Fyodor Dostoevsky, for example: He was so poor he had to go to jail for his debts. Take Mozart, who was so poor he had to sell the rights to much of his music. Both are now household names.


But these dead artists' art would have attracted even more attention if their deaths had been the result of their efforts to help save the world by, say, mopping up radioactive waste.


So here is my advice: If you are the heir to a poor, little-known artist, suggest that he volunteer his services as a humanitarian worker at some catastrophe site - a nuclear explosion, a volcano eruption, the war in Chechnya, whatever. Hopefully, the artist will be engulfed by the boiling lava or will fall victim to a stray bullet.


When it's over, sell the art at Sotheby's. Should you have any problems getting rich, contact the Dutch art collector.