Museum needs £200,000 for Marc Quinn’s blood portrait

The National Portrait Gallery is hoping to buy the artist’s latest version of the work for £350,000

LONDON. The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is hoping to buy Marc Quinn’s Self, a frozen sculpture of the artist’s head, made out of his own blood. Quinn produces a new version every five years. The most recent, dating from 2006, is being offered to the NPG by the artist’s gallery White Cube for £350,000. Its open market value is said to be over £1m.

Quinn uses ten pints of his own blood for each self-portrait head. He told us that he needs over a year to produce sufficient blood. The Art Newspaper has tracked down the other three sculptures which have been produced so far.

The original Self, dating from 1991, is one of the iconic works made by the so-called YBAs (Young British Artists). It was first bought by Charles Saatchi, who is believed to have paid £13,000 for the work. It was then shown at the Royal Academy in the collector’s “Sensation” exhibition in 1997 which travelled to Berlin and New York.

Stories circulated after Saatchi’s marriage to food writer Nigella Lawson that builders improving the couple’s kitchen had inadvertently switched off the refrigeration unit, melting the work. Quinn dismisses this as an “urban myth”. In 2006 Saatchi sold his Self to Steve Cohen, the Connecticut-based hedge fund billionaire and major collector.

Quinn’s second Self, made in 1996, was bought by Texan collectors Cindy and Howard Rachofsky. It is now partly owned with the Dallas Museum of Art (where it is currently in storage), and it will ultimately remain there as a full gift. The 2001 Self belongs to Korean collector Kim Chang-il (“C.I. Kim”), who has a private museum in a shopping complex he owns in Cheonan, outside Seoul.

The portrait the NPG wants to acquire was made in 2006, depicting the artist with noticeably more mature features than the 1991 original. The Art Fund has offered £100,000 and the NPG has raised a further £50,000, which means an extra £200,000 is needed. Chief curator Jacob Simon describes it as an “iconic” work of the YBAs.

Long-term preservation will pose a challenge for a gallery which acquires for perpetuity. A back-up power supply is enclosed within the stainless steel base, which houses the refrigeration unit. In a worst-case scenario, NPG director Sandy Nairne says the artist has agreed that the head “can be melted, recast and refrozen”.

Quinn says he would like to see all four heads brought together for an exhibition, emphasising the change in his body over time. For this, he was influenced by Rembrandt’s numerous painted self-portraits, done throughout his life. Quinn’s sculptures can travel, making an exhibition feasible, although it is a complicated procedure with the frozen heads being packed in dry ice.

The artist plans to continue to make a new Self every five years, until he is incapable of doing so. “The final one will be done after I die, with blood drained out of my body,” he told The Art Newspaper.

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