Laura Gascoigne: The Gold Standard – November 2019

Laura Gascoigne
November/December 2019

In October of last year, under the title ‘The Midas Touch’, Sotheby’s held a special sale of ‘objets de vertu’ made of gold. “In a world that speaks 6,900 languages,” cooed the catalogue, “the language of gold remains universal”. To prove it, the auction house promised to take collectors “on a journey through the great civilisations of the world”, starting with an ancient Etruscan-style Greek 22ct gold wine cup (estimate £3,500-4,500) and ending with a Dom Perignon Gold Mathusalem 2002 (£15,000-20,000) of vintage champagne to quaff from it and a 24ct gold thread bedding suite by Federico Buccellati (£30,000-50,000) in which to sleep off the effects.

It was not all luxury items; there was art too. The lots included a Petit Barbu medallion by Picasso (£12,000-16,000); a Monogold Sans Titre by Yves Klein (£800,000-1,200,000); a Piccolo Miracolo by Marino Marini (£15,000-25,000); and a Marc Quinn head of Kate Moss titled Song of the Siren (£300,000-400,000). To keep things in perspective, Sotheby’s threw in a Madonna of Humility goldback by Jacobello del Fiore (£50,000-70,000) and a portfolio of 20 Sebastião Salgado photographs of the Serra Pelada Gold Mine, Brazil (1986) (£80-120,000).

In uncertain times investors turn to gold, and Donald Trump’s trade wars coupled with the global economic downturn have boosted the price of bullion to its highest level for six years. So it says something for the buoyancy of the art market that a single photograph should be worth more than a solid gold ancient Greek cup. If there’s going to be a rush for gold, it hasn’t yet started: the buyer of Jeff Koons’ Rabbit (1986) at Christie’s New York in May for a record $91m was none other than Robert E Mnuchin, father of Donald Trump’s treasury secretary. The rich like glitter. Mnuchin wasn’t bothered that the Rabbit was made of stainless steel; when polished to a high enough shine, steel passes for bling.

Still, the language of gold remains universal, and a smattering of it is an asset to any contemporary artist who wants to make it big. In 2010 that great critic of capitalism – or is it communism? – Ai Weiwei produced a glitzy gilded bronze edition of his Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, which he trotted around the world from New York to Montreal to Denmark to Moscow before achieving an auction record of £2.8m at Phillips London in 2015. “Maybe I’m just an undercover artist in the guise of a dissident,” he confessed in the auction catalogue. Maybe he’s just a good salesman who knows his market. 

As Oprah Winfrey once wisely remarked, when you’ve got all the necessities of life the only significant advantage money will buy you is thicker towels. Brought up against this disappointing reality, the mega-rich have to take comfort in exciting envy by splurging on such rarefied necessities as the 24ct gold-plated vacuum cleaner advertised for £800,000 by online retailer Firebox a few years ago, or the 22ct three-ply bog roll sold by Aussie company Toilet Paper Man for a similar sum. In the immortal words of Zero Mostel in The Producers: “If you’ve got it baby, flaunt it, flaunt it!”

So it showed a degree of sophistication on the part of the American President when in 2017 he turned down the offer of an 18ct golden toilet from Nancy Spector, artistic director of the Guggenheim Museum New York. Titled America, the fully functioning convenience was the work of Italian conceptual prankster Maurizio Cattelan, Padua’s answer to Bristol’s Banksy, and was valued at $6m. But Trump had requested the loan of Van Gogh’s Landscape with Snow and, to a notorious germophobe, a toilet 100,000 people had queued to use when recently plumbed into a gender-neutral restroom at the Guggenheim seemed a poor substitute. Much as he likes riding in gold-plated lifts, the presidential master of the playground cuss is not so stupid that he can’t recognise a piss-take from a libtard art curator when he hears one. Besides, as the Guardian suggested in its report, he may already have a gold throne of his own.

The Duke of Marlborough doesn’t, and leapt at the chance of installing Cattelan’s at Blenheim Palace for the artist’s autumn retrospective. Plumbed into the guides’ wood-panelled throne room opposite the bedroom Winston Churchill was born in, it was available for use by visitors for just two days before thieves broke in at 4.50am on Saturday 14 September and ripped it out of the wall, causing flood damage. The family had been aristocratically relaxed about security. Only a couple of weeks before, the Duke’s half-brother Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill, who set up the Blenheim Art Foundation, had told the Sunday Times: “It’s not going to be the easiest thing to nick… Firstly, it’s plumbed in and secondly, a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate. So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it.”

As it turned out, the thieves were not that fussy. On any self-respecting burglar or cowboy plumber Spencer-Churchill’s press announcement will have acted as a challenge. Almost inevitably, it was taken up. A 66-year-old man was immediately arrested by Thames Valley Police, followed by a 36-year-old accomplice presumably responsible for the heavy lifting. It’s always the old lags, bless ’em, who rise to this sort of bait; they can’t resist the lure of a trophy heist. And what better trophy than a golden bog? I expect Michael Caine is already being fitted up for the part.

Cattelan, true to form, took it all in good humour, hailing the heist as a piece of performance art. As the work belongs to the Guggenheim it’s no skin off his Pulcinello-sized nose – Spector and Spencer-Churchill can squabble over the insurance. “America was the one percent for the 99 percent, and I hope it still is,” he told the New York Times. “I want to be positive and think the robbery is a kind of Robin Hood-inspired action.” I doubt there’ll be much of a trickledown effect to the poor of Oxfordshire when it’s melted down, as it surely will be. Burglars don’t waste time betting on art futures when they’re sitting on a pile of valuable scrap. 

The same fate almost certainly befell Douglas Gordon’s solid gold sculpture The Left and Right Hand Have Left One Another after it mysteriously disappeared from its box in Christie’s King Street warehouse in 2012, never to be seen again. Given that the gold was worth half the work’s £500,000 insurance value, this was hardly surprising. What was surprising was that the auction house only informed the artist of the theft more than two weeks after reporting the crime to the police. “I still own the work and I am the creator of the work,” Gordon sniffed to the press. “There’s something going on here about value and the way the artist is treated in all of this.”

Artists may fool themselves, but the hard truth is that the value of art as a marketable commodity is monetary. Which is why collectors, like burglars, are better off with gold than steel: when the bottom falls out of the art market, they can melt it down.

Бьянка ресторан белорусская. . Флакон стеклянный с крышкой ссылка.