Gory £300,000 blood head goes on show at National Portrait Gallery

By Culture24 Staff | 11 September 2009
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A picture of a cast made of blood

(Above) © Marc Quinn, Todd-White Art Photography, Jay Jopling / White Cube (London)

Of all the sufferance witnessed in the name of art, Marc Quinn's blood head project is surely one of the most extreme.

Self, the fourth incarnation in a series of self-portrait casts of Quinn's head, is made from 10 pints of his blood, removed pint-by-pint at six week intervals by his doctor and then frozen. It goes on display at the National Portrait Gallery today, 18 years after the first gory version of his head appeared there in Charles Saatchi's Sensation exhibition.

Saatchi bought Quinn's debut piece for £13,000, but the National Portrait Gallery has needed £300,000 to make Self the only cast of the quartet formed since then to join a British public collection, including money raised from a public appeal and £100,000 from The Art Fund.

A picture of a head sculpture cast in blood

Charles Saatchi was alleged to have accidentally allowed the Quinn cast he bought to thaw after unplugging the freezer it was preserved in

Quinn is already represented at the Gallery through a DNA portrait of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sir John Sulston, and has previously created marble sculptures of figures with missing limbs, including the 15-ton statue of Alison Lapper which stood on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth until 2007.

"To me this sculpture came from wanting to push portraiture to an extreme," he said.

"It only exists in certain conditions, in this case being frozen, analogous to me, with a person being alive. For all these reasons I couldn't think of a better place for it to be than in the National Portrait Gallery collection."

NPG Director Sandy Nairne said Self was "an outstanding acquisition" which was "both startling and revealing". Art Fund Acting Director Andrew Macdonald called it a "challenging and disquieting work" and "a fantastic example of Quinn's capacity to stretch the notion of what portraiture can be."

Marc Quinn will be discussing Self with Tim Marlow at the National Portrait Gallery on November 12 at 7pm. Call 020 7306 0055 or visit the Gallery online.

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