One of the most visible effects of the astonishing run-up in contemporary art prices is the soaring budgets for new works. It’s not just Damien Murakoons, either — everybody from Noble & Webster to Mariko Mori is making million-dollar sculptures with massive construction costs.
The lastest look-how-much-money-I-can-spend spectacle comes from Marc Quinn, who’s made a 50kg life-size sculpture of Kate Moss out of solid (if hollow) gold. According to the Independent, it’s "thought to be the world’s largest gold statue built since the time of ancient Egypt," and is priced at £1.5 million ($2.66 million).
50 kilos is 1,607 troy ounces. At $800 an ounce, that puts the cost of the gold in the sculpture alone at just under $1.3 million — and the actual cost was probably more, given where gold prices where when the sculpture was being made. Add to that wastage and foundry costs, and the price tag on this piece looks positively reasonable, especially since it would seem to include a built-in hedge against the art market collapsing. A $3 million painting can go to zero, but 50 kilos of gold will always be worth a lot of money.
It’s not just the value of the gold, either: a big gold sculpture also works as a luxury object. A lot of the work by today’s art stars is now (being sold as) a luxury good; making objects out of solid gold only serves to exemplify that trend. Long after Marc Quinn has been forgotten, a life-size golden girl will have a certain amount of status value among a certain subsection of the population. Which might constitute a second partial hedge against its value dropping precipitously.