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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Switzerland
    Private Collection, Los Angeles

  • Catalogue Essay

    A self-portrait of the artist cast in 18 carat gold and born of the same mould used for Quinn’s seminal work, Self (1991), Frozen Head (2009) may appear to be a work of apotheosis. By casting the image of a mortal man in one of the most valuable of materials and thus consigning it to posterity, Quinn is raising questions about the value of art and its significance for contemporary society. Is this work valuable to us because it has been made out of gold or because it is by a famous artist? Furthermore, do we make the image or does the image make us?

    However, as with much of Quinn’s work, the meaning of the piece is in fact the opposite of what it seems. In Self (1991) Quinn made his first self-portrait in his own frozen blood. An icon of contemporary art, it underlines the thin line between art and death and the fragility of existence. In Frozen Head, Quinn shifts focus from the physical to the anthropological world and, created in the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, this work examines the fragility of the belief systems by which we make our world work. Humans have decided since time immemorial that gold is the most precious of metals, yet of course it is but a metal and it is us who have collectively decided its value. Economics is a belief system as much as any religion and a doubt about collective agreement on economic value systems is precisely what leads to any economic crisis. Things have value because we say or believe they do.

    Frozen Head addresses the relative values of art and money. In this case, the head is ‘frozen’ by a social consensus about these relative values. Fragility is underlined by the hard fact that if the value of the gold in this work were to be considered as greater than its qualities or values as a work of art, it risks being melted down into bullion. Frozen Head is as much a contingent creation as its brother in blood frozen by a freezer.

Ο21

Frozen Head

2009
10 kg of 18 ct gold
32 × 17 × 22 cm (12 5/8 × 6¾ × 8 5/8 in)
This work is an edition of one.

Estimate
£600,000 - 800,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £713,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

14 February 2013
London