Head made of blood sold by Saatchi for profit of £1,487,000

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The Independent Online

Marc Quinn's famous sculpture moulded with eight pints of his own blood was regarded as one of the signature pieces of the Young British Artists when the new Saatchi Gallery opened less than two years ago.

Marc Quinn's famous sculpture moulded with eight pints of his own blood was regarded as one of the signature pieces of the Young British Artists when the new Saatchi Gallery opened less than two years ago.

Now Charles Saatchi, the gallery owner and one-time patron of the YBAs, has sold the work, Self, to an American collector for £1.5m, further fuelling rumours that his love affair with the movement is at an end.

Saatchi bought it in 1991 when Quinn was relatively unknown and its sale is thought to have earned him a profit of £1,487,000.

The sale follows a period of artistic overhaul for Saatchi. In January this year, the unmade beds and sharks in formaldehyde which had drawn visitors to his gallery in County Hall, London, were swapped for oil paintings owned by Saatchi, in a year-long exhibition called The Triumph of Painting.

While the gallery remains tight-lipped about the future of pieces which once heralded a new wave of daring, often shocking, British conceptual art, many works have already been sold.

Damien Hirst bought back several of his own works from Saatchi in 2003, for a reported £7.8m. These included a sliced pig in formaldehyde, This Little Piggy went to Market, which alone was valued at £1.5m. Hirst's seminal work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a shark in formaldehyde which became emblematic of the YBA generation, was sold for a reported £6.25m in January this year.

Saatchi is thought to have parted with one of his favourite pieces by Hirst, a sheep in formaldehyde, entitled Away from the Flock, for £2.1m. He has also sold Rachel Whiteread's elegiac piece Ghost, as well as Ron Muerk's sculpture Dead Dad which appeared in the central space of Saatchi's gallery at County Hall.

Many art critics have taken Saatchi's reconfiguration of his gallery to signify the death of the YBA movement, which rose to such prominence a decade ago. Others have suggested that he is cashing in on the works that he helped to make famous to finance his latest passion for paintings.

But Anna Somers Cocks, editor-in-chief of The Art Newspaper, said that although Saatchi helped to make the work of the YBAs fashionable, his latest move would not sound the death knell for the conceptual art of that generation.

"If these artists are still fetching good prices, it means there are a whole variety of people buying them," she said. "I don't think we will find that just because Saatchi has sold a few pieces, that prices will fall. It does not depend on one art collector. The market for contemporary art is very wide in Europe and America and it is a well supported market. Damien Hirst is considered a YBA and his prices are going higher and higher. There are enough other buyers out there to prove there is interest."

Some art experts believe the sale of extraordinary works that Saatchi amassed in the 1990s will, on reflection, be a huge mistake.

Quinn's self portrait, Self, created in 1991, was made from blood taken from him over a period of five months. The blood was poured into a negative mould of the artist's head and frozen. This cast was exhibited in a glass container set on top of a refrigeration unit at the Saatchi Gallery from 1992 until last year.

The piece has subsequently become a touchstone for a particular brand of art of the body and is regarded as a sensitive meditation on mortality and the fragility of life. Rumours of it melting after workmenreportedly pulled the plug on a refrigerator have prolonged the notoriety and visibility of the work

A spokeswoman for the Saatchi Gallery confirmed that Quinn's sculpture had been sold. But a statement added: "Saatchi has been the biggest buyer of contemporary art over the last two years. He has set record prices for many artists in auction."

Saatchi's other sales

* Damien Hirst's shark, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, is believed to have been sold to a US collector, Steven Cohen, for a figure of between £6m and £7m. Saatchi bought it for £50,000 in 1991.

* Rachel Whiteread's Ghost, a sculpture from 1990, was a plaster cast of a living room modelled on a house in north London similar to the one she grew up in. It was sold for an unknown amount.

* Damien Hirst repurchased up to 12 of the works that Saatchi collected at the beginning of the artist's career for a rumoured £7.8m including This Little Piggy Went To Market, from 1996.

* Away From The Flock, also by Hirst, is believed to have been sold for £2.1m.

* Four works by Ron Muerk are believed to have been sold including Dead Dad, Angel, Mask and Pinocchio.

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