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

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - MODERN ART - Words don thomp­son

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

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