Thursday, 2 October 2008

Worshipping the Golden Calf

If Damian Hirst's diamond encrusted skull made me feel a little uneasy - art and commodity almost perfectly superimposed - then his Golden Calf, made with real gold plate and sold as part of his record, middleman-negating Sotheby's auction made me shrug. I'd got used to the idea of the biggest-selling contemporary artist dealing with a preposterously wealthy top end in this premium, trade-marked product. It all seems rather removed from a crumbling credit recession-creep reality but then it's another world that doesn't really impact on me.

Then today I read two stories, side by side. First, the idea of there being a rush on gold. Second, and less innocuous, the creation of a new work by another YBA, Mark Quinn for a new British Museum exhibition: Siren, a sculpture of Kate Moss in gold.

Described by the museum as an "Aphrodite of our times", it sits in the Museum's Nereid Gallery, alongside its statues of famous Greek beauties.
Now, I dare say that Kate Moss may be not only a famed beauty but also justly so. Marc Quinn is a reasonable sculptor with some sharp ideas - there is also no reason why he shouldn't be able to sculpt in gold, if that's part of his concept and someone is prepared to furnish him with the precious metal...

Yet I can't help thinking that a having such a grossly ostentatious show of wealth is a misjudgment by The British Museum. After all, this is the week in which the chat about global recession has becoming a painful and frightening reality. The art of Hirst, Quinn et al is bound less comprehensively by the aesthetics of their work and increasingly in the ideas represented by its content, materials and context. Consequently the gold is as much on show, confrontationally so, as the sculpture (Quinn has even done this piece before, in white-painted bronze). I cannot find any information about the source of the commission and final destination of the work online at the moment. If this £1.5M piece has actually been commissioned for the nation by the British Museum it constitutes, arguably, a lack of good sense from the institution.


  1. Marc Quinn in tonight's Standard: 'With the financial crash at the minute it is a really interesting time to do this.'

    This sounds like the authentic voice of a YBA. I'm not sure how it changes my perspective on what I've written though...

  2. The exhibit is marked 'from the artist's private collection' so it hasn't been commissioned with our money. I think my point still stands though.