Close-up: Rungwe Kingdon & Claude Koenig
When Damien Hirst goes large, who does he turn to? His 'hands'
Sunday 16 November 2008
Rungwe Kingdon and Claude Koenig are responsible for some of the world's greatest works of art – sculptures that tour the most prestigious galleries and fetch dizzying sums in the auction houses of London and New York – yet outside the whitewashed walls of the art world, their names are seldom heard. "That's because we're not artists," says Kingdon. "We are founders."
At Pangolin Editions, their foundry in Gloucestershire, the duo help some of art's biggest names realise their visions. Recent projects include Damien Hirst's Virgin Mother, a 35ft bronze of a pregnant woman that dominated the courtyard of London's Royal Academy of Arts in 2006.
Koenig is happy working in the shadows ("You could say we are Hirst's hands," she says) while Kingdon compares his foundry to an orchestra: "When you listen to Beethoven you don't wonder who's the first violinist. We're comfortable in that role."
The husband-and-wife team met at art school; sculpture had fascinated them both as children. "Claude's first casts were lead poured into snails' shells," Kingdon says. "I'd cast lizards in plaster. It was like making your own fossils – it was like magic."
Pangolin is best known for its bronzes but has just finished working with 50 artists to produce silver sculptures. Their exhibition, opening tomorrow, includes an aborted foetus by Antony Gormley and a Hirst called Grotesque Unicorn, which includes a flayed bull's head with a swordfish blade that looks like a chainsaw.
The work is likely to be worth more than its weight in silver should it be sold (Hirst netted a record £111m at a Sotheby's auction of his new work in September), but the huge sums "his" works often fetch aren't galling for Kingdon. "Bring it on!" he says. "Everybody in the art world thrives in the light that shines on Hirst. Long may it continue."
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