Song of the Siren: an artwork for our era

A solid gold bust of a supermodel will create plenty of headlines, but it would be a poor choice for true fans of the precious metal. Chris Carter reports.

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We're fans of gold at MoneyWeek. A reliable holder of value (over the very long term), it's great as portfolio insurance. But even for us, a solid 18-carat-gold bust of supermodel Kate Moss might be taking things a little far. Still, that's what will be appearing at the Sotheby's Midas Touch auction in October. The auction house in London is still accepting lots for its first-ever sale devoted to objects made from gold, so we don't yet know what the full line-up will look like. But a solid gold head of a modern cultural icon will surely be hard to beat in terms of sheer strangeness.

Unconventional sculptures

The artwork, created in 2010, is called Song of the Siren, and was created by British artist Marc Quinn, who made his name with a series of sculpture of his own head made from his frozen blood. He later created a marble statue of a pregnant Alison Lapper (an artist who was born without arms and with shortened legs) that adorned the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2005. Three years later, the British Museum unveiled a 50kg gold statue by Quinn of Moss pulling a contorted yoga pose. Described at the time as the largest gold statue created since the time of ancient Egypt, it was said to be worth £1.5m.

More than its weight in gold

The work on sale at Sotheby's is a later piece in a series of sculptures of Moss that Quinn has created. It is significantly smaller, but still required a lot of gold. It weighs 8,021 grams without the stand, and comes with an estimate of between £300,000 and £400,000. A quick reckoning on the website of dealers Gold Traders puts the scrap price of 18-carat gold at £20.97 per gram, which gives Song of the Siren a metal value of £168,200.37. The rest of the pre-auction estimate is tied up in its value as art (or possibly in the subject matter for Kate Moss fans). In fact, if you are buying a gold piece such as this, then you are really only buying it as a work of art and not as a commodity investment (ie, a lump of gold).

Not good for gold investors

Gold is VAT-free in Britain, but it needs to be at least 99.5% pure (23.88 carats that's assuming you melted Moss down to make bars). At 18 carats, the sculpture is 75% gold, so wouldn't qualify. Of course, investors can buy works of art for their portfolios just bear in mind that, as unique items, they can be tricky to sell in a hurry, and it's hard to know how much you will get for them. Gold investors, as opposed to art collectors, are better off sticking to bars, coins or a gold-backed ETF, such as ETFS Physical Gold (LSE: PHAU).

Sign of the times

That said, it is just this combined desire for gold and art from Asia, Russia and the Middle East that has spurred Sotheby's to hold this gold-themed auction on 17 October (an online sale will run from 9-19 October). "Gold has always been a universal symbol of status," Sotheby's head of sale, Constantine Frangos, tells The Sunday Telegraph. Bringing together our 21st-century love of celebrity and bling, a solid gold Kate Moss bust is, perhaps, a fitting tribute to our times.

A heavyweight enters Singapore

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"Another week, another art-fair launch," says Melanie Gerlis in the Financial Times. MCH Group, the owner of Art Basel, has teamed up with Tim Etchells and Angus Montgomery Arts to open ART SG at Singapore's Marina Bay Sands resort in November next year. The Swiss company has emerged as the world's most prolific art-fair organiser, with stakes in nine regional events, including in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong. Singapore already hosts the Art Stage Singapore fair, also at the Marina Bay Sands, but at its eighth annual edition in January, the number of galleries fell to 84 from 131 in 2017. Frank Lasry, managing director at MCH, said the firm takes an "opportunistic approach" with new fairs. "We concluded there is a market for a fair in Singapore at that time of year, so we started one."

The decision is part of a broader initiative by MCH to expand its position in the art market by building a portfolio of regional art fairs, says Bloomberg's Frederik Balfour. And Asia is performing better than anywhere, minting millionaires faster than any other region in the world. ART SG will be targeting the same group of buyers as Art Stage Singapore. "Singapore is an important and very dynamic art location and requires a fair serving the southeast Asian region at an international standard," added Lasry. Art Stage Singapore will be hoping MCH doesn't eat its lunch.

Auctions

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Going

A dusty 1962 Jaguar E-Type that had lain in storage for 35 years in Moray, Scotland, was expected to fetch between £30,000 and £40,000 at an auction held by H&H Classics this week. The car has just 66,551 miles on the clock and all of its original parts. There was no reserve price, meaning the buyer might get a bargain, says The Daily Telegraph. "The joy of this job is that now and then you stumble across a car that you just know is going to excite other car lovers as much as it excites you," says H&H Classics' Roger Nowell. "[It] is such an iconic symbol of its time and our motoring history."

Gone

A 1961 Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato was sold for a total of £10,081,500, including buyers' premium, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in Sussex on Friday 13 July, breaking the record for the most expensive car sold at a European auction. The car, which is one of three MP209 versions made, had been previously driven by British two-time F1 world champion Jim Clark. It had also been entered in the Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1961, but failed to finish. James Knight, who oversaw the auction as Bonhams motoring chairman, said he was "simply blown away" by the sale.

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