Marc Quinn (born 8 January 1964) is a British artist and part of the group known as Britart or YBA (Young British Artists) of which he is a cornerstone. He is particularly known for Alison Lapper Pregnant (a sculpture of Alison Lapper installed on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square), Self (a sculpture of his head made with his own frozen blood), and Garden (2000). His work has frequently involved the innovative use of materials such as blood, ice, faeces etc pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible and acceptable.
Quinn’s oeuvre displays a preoccupation with the mutability of the body and the dualisms that define human life: spiritual and physical, surface and depth, cerebral and sexual. Using an broad array of materials, from ice and blood to glass, marble or lead, Quinn develops these paradoxes into experimental, conceptual works that are often figurative in form.
Life and career
Quinn was born in London in 1964. He studied history and the history of art at Robinson College, Cambridge. He worked as an assistant to the sculptor Barry Flanagan and began to exhibit in the early 1990s. He was the first artist represented by Jay Jopling, and was exhibited in Charles Saatchi’s Sensation.
Quinn’s sculpture, paintings and drawings often deal with the distanced relationship we have with our bodies, highlighting how the conflict between the ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ has a grip on the contemporary psyche. In 1999, Quinn began a series of marble sculptures of amputees as a way of re-reading the aspirations of Greek and Roman statuary and their depictions of an idealised whole.
One such work depicted Alison Lapper, a woman who was born without arms, when she was heavily pregnant. Quinn subsequently enlarged this work to make it a major piece of public art for the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square. Other key themes in his work include genetic modification and hybridism. Garden (2000), for instance, is a walk-through installation of impossibly beautiful flowers that will never decay, or his ‘Eternal Spring’ sculptures, featuring flowers preserved in perfect bloom by being plunged into sub-zero silicone. Quinn has also explored the potential artistic uses of DNA, making a portrait of a sitter by extracting strands of DNA and placing it in a test-tube. DNA Garden (2001), contains the DNA of over 75 plant species as well as 2 humans: a re-enactment of the Garden of Eden on a cellular level. Quinn’s diverse and poetic work meditates on our attempts to understand or overcome the transience of human life through scientific knowledge and artistic expression.
Quinn’s self portrait “Self” is a signature piece. A frozen sculpture of the artist’s head made from 4.5 litres of his own blood, taken from his body over a period of 5 months. This he first did in his late 20s in 1991 continues to do it every 5 years. In interview in 2000, reflecting on the iconic artwork, he remarked, “Well, I think it’s a great sculpture. I’m really happy with it. I think it is inevitable that you have one piece people focus in on. But that’s really good because it gets people into the work.”
Described by Quinn as a ‘frozen moment on life-support’, the work is carefully maintained in a refrigeration unit, reminding the viewer of the fragility of existence. The artist makes a new version of Self every five years, each of which documents Quinn’s own physical transformation and deterioration. Self, like many other pieces by the YBAs, was bought by Charles Saatchi (in 1991 for a reputed £13,000) the piece was exhibited by Saatchi when he opened his new gallery in London in 2003. In April, 2005, Self was reputedly sold to a US collector for £1.5m. The National Portrait Gallery in London acquired Self 2006. (Purchased through The Art Fund, the Henry Moore Foundation, Terry and Jean de Gunzburg and Project B Contemporary Art, 2009)
Alison Lapper, The Fourth Plinth (2005-2007)
Quinn is quoted as saying
At first glance it would seem that there are few if any public sculptures of people with disabilities. However, a closer look reveals that Trafalgar Square is one of the few public spaces where one exists: Nelson on top of his column has lost an arm. I think that Alison’s portrait reactivates this dormant aspect of Trafalgar Square. Most public sculpture, especially in the Trafalgar Square and Whitehall areas, is triumphant male statuary. Nelson’s Column is the epitome of a phallic male monument and I felt that the square needed some femininity, linking with Boudicca near the Houses of Parliament. Alison’s statue could represent a new model of female heroism. (Marc Quinn 2005)
In August 2008, Quinn unveiled another sculpture of Kate Moss, this time in solid 18 carat gold, called Siren, which was exhibited in the British Museum, London. The life size sculpture was promoted as “the largest gold statue since ancient Egypt”Siren was identified as using a similar strategy as Damien Hirst’s diamond skull with its expensive use of material which could be dismantled if necessary, or in this case melted down, with the artworks as material investment plus added-value artist branding. It was also identified as containing several elements, including the celebrity subject matter and sensation-inducing pose, which accelerate media coverage.
In May 2010, Quinn revealed a series of new sculptures at Londons White Cube gallery including The Ecstatic Autogenesis of Pamela based on film actress Pamela Anderson and Chelsea Charms based on pornography model Chelsea Charms.
Quinn has always been interested in the public’s obsession with the body, its perfections and flaws, and how this obsession has led some people to alter their bodies in increasingly extreme ways.
Quinn’s new sculptures, as Joachim Pissarro has noted in his catalogue essay to accompany the exhibition, are portraits of people who ‘exemplify a disconnect between body and soul’ and who ‘open up a provocative new chapter in [Quinn's] exploration of the relationship between corporeality and spirituality – fundamentally addressing the notion of identity by asking: is one more or less one’s self after cosmetic surgery?’
Quinn’s new models include ‘Catman’ (Dennis Avner, who has been tattooed to look like a cat) and ‘the pregnant man’ (Thomas Beatie) to niche porn stars such as Buck Angel, a ‘man with a pussy’, and Allanah Starr, a transsexual woman who has changed her body into the idealisation of femininity even though she also has a penis.
Quinn has also made sculptures of celebrities. Pamela Anderson is depicted in polished bronze, doubled at the shoulder with an identical alter ego, as if part of a conjoined twin, her face staring at the ceiling in a state of ecstasy. Two large heads of Michael Jackson are carved out of black, white and red marble. The two sculptures work in dialectical opposition – depicting Jackson as he is most well known after numerous surgical interventions, one with a black face, the other white.
In the Night Garden – Sarasvati Night Bloom
In May 2011, Sotheby’s New York sold ‘Myth (Venus)’ a painted bronze sculpture by Quinn from 2006, 120 x 90 x 79 in. (305 x 228 x 200 cm.) The sculpture, number two from an edition of three sold for $1.2m USD, a record at auction for the artist. Other auction highs have been for sculptures of the same theme. As mentioned above, the frozen head ‘Self’ was reputedly sold in 2005 by Charles Saatchi for $2.4m USD equivalent.
The auction record for a painting on canvas was also set in 2011 at Sotheby’s London for a large, 98 x 66 inch painting ‘Snow Hall Creek’ which fetched a little over $400,000 USD. This is at the higher end of a more usual auction range for works by Quinn of this size which is around $100-300,000 USD. Smaller scale paintings and sculptures are at proportionately lower levels.
Signed limited edition prints by Quinn in sets and individually and in auction, are usually in the region of $1000 – $3000 per image.
Please contact us for a full assessment of the market for works by Marc Quinn and the possibility for either sale or acquisition.