Report from London: The Gold Standard, Kate Moss…and more


Post by Max Mulhern

Marc Quinn, Siren, gold, from Statuephilia at the British Museum. Photo by Max Mulhern.
Marc Quinn, Siren, gold, from Statuephilia at the British Museum. Photo by Max Mulhern.

Mark Quinn’s 52 kilogram solid gold statue of super model Kate Moss “Siren” went on display at the British Museum last week in an exhibition entitled « Statuephilia ». “Statuephilia” consist of one work per featured figurative artist:  Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Ron Mueck, Marc Quinn and Noble & Webster (3 of the 5 artists are represented by the White Cube Gallery in London). The works are scattered among the pieces of the permanent collection and highlight the way we sculpt ourselves in today’s civilisation as compared to civilizations past. It appears that our aspirations have remained the same throughout the ages. We worship beauty and flight and endeavor to come to terms with our mortality.

Quinn’s “Siren” is the piece de resistance given the economic sound and fury of today.  The statue, which weighs as much as Kate Moss herself, is wrought in a yoga-like pose that evokes a cross between an Edward Gorey bug and Shiva. From the front we see her neck and head jutting out like a Francis Bacon phallic monster. She is balanced on her lumbar vertebrae with her pelvis turned upward putting us face to face with her most private areas that seem to be on the verge of speaking (Vagina Monologues Redux?). Her legs and arms are locked behind her head and her torso drifts towards us from between her thighs like a ghost adrift from any skeletal attachment. From the rear this is an insect goddess. She seems to have too many limbs although she is pleasing from the side from where she looks like a pitcher.

Kate’s body is having an out of body experience.

Marc Quinn - Siren
Marc Quinn, Siren, gold, from Statuephilia at the British Museum. Photo by Max Mulhern.

Quinn has asked us to honor the beauty of the disfigured before. He displayed a monumental statue of a pregnant woman with stunted limbs on a plinth in Trafalgar Square. (see our post on this piece.) Sculpted in Carrara marble to a downy finish the sculpture was a beautiful object that smoothed over the defects of the expectant mother and produced a spectacular result. Is this a democratic ideal at work here? I wonder because Beauty isn’t democratic. Quinn disfigures an iconic beauty with “Siren” but the motives are unclear.

Is Quinn suggesting that filthy lucre has corrupted even the form of art or is it just the art that suggests this? Art prices are the only mystery of creation today. Much sculpture has taken on a Made in China or Made by Your Aunt in Her Garage appearance thanks chiefly to Mr. Koons. Quinn is leveraging this trend with the value of the material.

Marc Quinn - Siren
Marc Quinn, Siren, gold, from Statuephilia at the British Museum. Photo by Max Mulhern.

I was curious to see such a big piece of gold. Indeed, the gold is the song and I felt wrecked by the statue although I actually wasn’t. Luckily most of us  (including great museums) are bound to the mast by our limited monetary resources so that we can’t actually reach that shore.

However, the lucky few already know that “Siren” is for sale at 10,000,000£ (1£ million for the gold and 9 £ million for the artist and his gallery if all goes well). Two weeks ago Hirst sold golden hoofed and crowned bulls in formaldehyde for record prices.  These artists are good businessmen. They are like central bankers trying to reassure jittery markets. They are resorting to a gold standard in order to give “true” core paper free value to their works. And like a good Republican Hirst believes that there will be a trickle down effect (I’m still waiting, thanks).

Kate Moss swinging on a chandelier, from a photo spread in Vogue Magazine, taken from

Civilizations and their currencies (monetary and cultural) come and go. But gold is the eternal standard. Does “Siren” signal a return to lost values after more than a decade of worshipping bricks and mortar and sculpting with cigarette butts? Is Quinn trying to make us take sculpture seriously again (i.e. one can only really make statues out of solid gold)? Or is “Siren” the offspring of the two -backed beast of art and money? All of the above!

Behold the Midas touch of the contemporary artist!

Still there’s always the danger of a meltdown, boys (FYI: 18K gold melts at 1947.52°).
How long will market forces leave “Siren” in this golden state? I don’t know. In the meantime, rejoice! This is a golden age for sculpture.”

–Max Mulhern is a London-based artist with ties to the Philadelphia area. We posted on him here and he previously wrote about arts funding here. You can see Max’s sculpture at the Projects Gallery booth at London’s Red Dot Fair.


british museum, marc quinn, max mulhern, statuephilia



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