The world spends an estimated $42 billion a year on contemporary art — if that’s the right word. A new book investigates why a giant candle can bring $1 million, and the mould of another man’s wife twice that
was at the time of the auction a 41-yearold veteran of 300 magazine covers, several Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues and Victoria’s Secret catalogues, and two Playboy pictorials. Prior to her marriage to millionaire industrialist Peter Brant she had dated Axl Rose, lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, and starred in their video November Rain. Before that she had had highly publicised relationships with Charlie Sheen and Warren Beatty. In 1994 People magazine named her one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World.
Her husband, Peter Brant, then 63, is a celebrity in his own right. He is chairman and CEO of White Birch Paper Company one of the largest newsprint manufacturers in North America. He publishes the trade magazine Art in America, owns a polo team, and was for years the top-ranked amateur polo player in America. Brant was the executive producer (with PBS) of the 2006 Emmy Award-winning Andy Warhol: A Documentary, and of the films Basquiat (1996) and Pollock (2000).
He had previously commissioned portraits of his wife by artists Julian Schnabel, Jeff Koons and Richard Prince. Brant is best known as an art collector. He has one of the world’s largest collections of Andy Warhol and 2000 other works of Abstract Expressionism, Pop, and contemporary art.
Maurizio Cattelan, the then 53-yearold Italian artist and creator of Trophy Wife provided another level of celebrity. In 2002 Cattelan and Ségalot visited the 53-acre Brant-Seymour estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. One wall in the library featured trophies of a gazelle and buffalo shot by Brant on a 1970 Kenya safari. Cattelan had the concept of creating for Brant a version of his wife that was like the gazelle, “hunted and mounted,” the result, Cattelan said, of a “domestic safari”.
Cattelan said he was afraid to broach the idea directly to Brant; he asked Ségalot to do it. Brant and Seymour agreed. Cattelan produced Stephanie in an edition of four: one for Brant, one for him, and two to be sold by dealers. Cattelan said the last two might first be offered for museum loan “so the world could share Brant’s wife”.
Stephanie was not actually produced by Cattelan. As with many contemporary artists, Cattelan’s work is produced by technicians. Stephanie was made by Parisian Daniel Druet, who uses the same technique employed for mannequins in wax museums. Cattelan’s contribution was the concept.
Stephanie’s back is arched, to match the neck of the gazelle. Brant said later that the work was not really intended as a trophy but rather like something the Greeks would have had on the front of a ship, an elegant woman’s form arching from the prow of a sailing vessel, a way of displaying the status of the owner.
Mouth colour, glass eyes, and hair were added to the wax. The hair is almost waist-length, intended to be styled by the owner: formal, informal, or sexy.
For the auction it was perfectly coiffed by celebrity New York stylist Frédéric Fekkai, who said, “We wanted to make her look like a goddess.” The eyes have a catatonic gaze, thought to mimic a runway model. At the auction preview, those stopping before the sculpture were bemused or awed. Most made no comment.
A later, curious follow-on was the discovery that artist Urs Fischer had produced a companion, life-size paraffin figure of spouse Peter Brant, standing behind an armchair. Titled Untitled (Standing) (2010), it has 14 wicks extending from the paraffin. The owner can, if desired, turn the sculpture into a huge candle and Mr Brant into a puddle of wax. Brant commissioned the work by Fischer without being told what would be produced. One of the edition of three surfaced at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary sale in New York in May 2012. It sold for $1.3 million.
Brant’s fortune and art collection were at risk when Seymour filed for divorce in March 2009; the couple apparently had not done a prenuptial agreement before marrying in 1993. His wife’s divorce petition claimed his worth as at least $500 million. In the midst of the divorce proceedings, Seymour revealed what else Brant might be giving up when she posed for the December 2009 issue of Vanity Fair wearing only a few drops of water. The magazine article, which included an account of the divorce proceedings, was also mentioned by Phillips’s PR people.
In September 2010 Seymour and Brant suddenly called off the divorce. The sale of Stephanie proceeded. Brant, but not Seymour, attended the auction. He did not bid.
Unresolved is why Jose Mugrabi or anyone else would pay $2.4 million for a waxwork of someone else’s wife, when the same amount might buy a modest Monet or Picasso – or an actual trophy wife. Is it explained by branding? The great back story? Art world celebrity? Would anyone pay this for an equally glamorous wax