February 29, 2024
Performance Artist Flatz Sells His Tattooed Skin for Charity

Black and white photo of shirtless man posing with hammer
Flatz, Portrait with hammer, (1990.) Andreas Struck/Flatz Foundation

Wolfgang Flatz, an Austrian conceptual artist known for his provocative and at times disturbing performances, is taking his exploration of the human body to the next level.

Flatz is selling pieces of himself to a private art collector who will eventually receive the artist’s literal body art in the form of his tattoos, which will be removed and mounted under glass upon the artist’s death. In the meantime, life-sized photographs of the works being sold will serve as a placeholder.

The sale marks the first time an artist has sold their body as a work of art in their lifetime, according to Christie’s, which organized a charity auction dedicated to Flatz’s tattoos earlier this month. An anonymous Swiss art collector acquired the entire batch of lots just hours ahead of the sale, which was scheduled to take place Feb. 8 in Munich.

Row of photographs on gallery wall depicting tattoos on the same man Row of photographs on gallery wall depicting tattoos on the same man
The artist will provide photographs of his tattoos for the time being. Flatz Foundation

Who is conceptual artist Wolfgang Flatz?

The unsettling nature of the art transaction is nothing new for Flatz, who has long pushed boundaries in his work. Nearly two decades ago, he made headlines for dropping a headless bull stuffed with explosives from a helicopter in Berlin, despite protests from animal advocates and local residents.

Much of Wolfgang’s art, which has been shown across Kassel’s documenta exhibitions and in Vienna’s Kunsthalle Wien, has emphasized the human body. A 1979 project in Stuttgart, Germany, saw a nude Flatz urge audience members to throw darts at him for a performance that only ended when he was hit and wounded. In 1990, he fell unconscious while hanging upside down in a destroyed synagogue in Tbilisi, Georgia, after repeatedly striking himself against two steel plates.

Some of these works are presented in Something Wrong with Physical Sculpture, a retrospective exhibition at Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne. The benefit auction of Flatz’s tattoos was intended to be a precursor to the show, which opened on Feb. 9, with proceeds earmarked to benefit both the museum and the artist’s nonprofit Flatz Foundation.

Tattooed back of elderly man Tattooed back of elderly man
The artist’s tattoos include the phrase “Physical Sculpture,” which takes up most of his upper back. © Franziska Pietsch/Pinakothek der Moderne

“It’s unique, of course,” Tine Nehler, head of communications at Pinakothek der Moderne, told Observer of Flatz’s tattoo project. The artist, whose tattoos include a barcode and the phrases “Physical Sculpture” and “Courage is good,” was inspired by Japanese traditions that treat tattoos like artwork after death, she said. Flatz offered up twelve of his tattoos for sale, while a thirteenth work dedicated to his son Norton will be passed on to his child.

According to Nehler, an art collector approached Flatz ahead of the auction to inquire about purchasing the entire selection of works for more than $1 million. The news was announced to a surprised audience at the benefit sale, where Flatz showed off his tattoos while standing nude on a rotating carousel platform.

Flatz, 71, hopes the posthumous tattoo transfer doesn’t happen for some time. “I want to be 100,” he told the Austria Press Agency, adding that the rest of his body will be burned and buried in an urn under a tree upon his death. “I give the skin to art, and the body goes back to nature,” he said.

Controversial Performance Artist Wolfgang Flatz Sold His Own Skin for Charity

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