The afterlife of an artist exists in their work. But even a world-class late artist’s reputation can suffer badly from a mismanaged estate: lack of transparency and a definitive catalog raisonné, or in some cases, inaccessible archives, or squabbling heirs can tarnish an artist’s legacy, have a negative effect on their market, and halt academic research on their work.
More needs to be said and written about what happens when artists die. Not that the subject is entirely neglected in academic circles: a friend of mine is five years into researching her PhD on the causes of mortality in Modernist sculptors, while a weighty tome investigating the burial practices of Abstract Expressionists in Arizona & New Mexico, 1956–59, dropped through the Elephant letterbox just last week.
Art often makes viewers ponder their mortality. Just think of the memento mori, a Latin phrase that translates directly to “remember you must die” and refers to symbols of death in art, most typically skulls (hey, no one said it should be subtle). And yet artists, as much as viewers, must think about what happens after they die: how their work will be seen, treated, and exhibited posthumously.