Golden girl: how Kate Moss became the face of contemporary art

Portraits of the artists' favourite muse

Siren - Kate Moss sculpture by Marc Quinn


The unveiling of UK artist Marc Quinn's most recent work - a $2.7m statue in solid gold - predictably made headlines. And less because of its immense value than its subject: Kate Moss.

One of the world's best-known faces, Moss has long been a favorite of top photographers such as Mario Testino and Juergen Teller. But her latest incarnation as a gleaming goddess provides new confirmation that she's equally as popular with artists.

In fact, the world's most enduring super-model has probably been portrayed more often than anyone in recent history, and an ever-growing body of art testifies to the true cultural icon she's become.

So just what is it that makes Moss a super-muse?

Kate Moss by Gary Hume

The emergence of BritArt, which started to make its presence felt when Kate was already an international star, was certainly a major factor. Moss hung out with Damien Hirst, became pals with Tracey Emin, and at one point was said to be romantically involved with Jake Chapman. Painter Gary Hume famously portrayed Kate in 1996 (left), and it wasn't long before others followed suit.

In September 2003, W Magazine commissioned leading American art stars to produce their own take on Kate.


Who is Kate Moss?

There's also the fact that Moss presents artists with particular challenges. The question of how to proceed where many others have left their creative mark is just one issue; another is how, exactly, to convey the essence of a woman whose appeal is ubiquitous yet particularly difficult to define.

Despite her very public presence, surprisingly little is known about the 'real' Kate Moss. She doesn't give interviews, and friends jealously guard her privacy.

Her beauty, too, is far from classic. Kate is extraordinary largely because she's close to being ordinary; a striking girl-next-door type with rock-chick attitudes and a penchant for partying.

For all these reasons, artists' depictions vary considerably, from conventionally representational to attempts to investigate - or even propogate - the cult of Kate.


The Kate cult

Kate Moss by Marc Quinn

Quinn himself, who has produced many works over the years with Kate as subject, has a particular view of her as quasi-mythological figure. Discussing his newly unveiled sculpture, he described her as "a cultural hallucination we have all agreed to create. She is the only person who has the ubiquity and silence that is required in an image of divinity."

The words echo an earlier, purported comment in which he told his model that the ice sculpture 'Beauty' (left) was ".. a perfect metaphor for our consumption of your beauty — as the ice evaporates, it will be released as vapour into the art gallery, and people will breathe you in. ..."

Quinn's remarks are embarrassingly excessive, though his interpretation certainly captures something of her truly iconic status. In many ways it's Gary Hume's featureless, loose-limbed portrait that best expresses the Moss enigma. Inviting us to project our own version of whoever she might be onto the work, we simultaneously see ourselves dully reflected in the metallic surface that makes up her face.


The golden touch

Kate Moss by Lucien Freud

If Kate Moss can somehow be all things to everyone, at the most arbitrary level this also means she's extremely good for business.

An indication that her presence alone makes art more than usually covetable was provided by the $7.32 million sale of Lucian Freud's portrait of a naked, pregnant Kate. Awkward in composition, it sold for only slightly less than another Freud in the same sale which most critics agreed was far better - though not of Moss.

Yet the portrait's mere existence was certainly unusual. The painter very rarely works with professional models or well-known subjects, and the fact that Kate proved an exception is further testament to her appeal.

One day history will take its own position regarding the fact that one celebrity face dominated art in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But for now, the artists' preferred muse continues to provide an enigmatic reflection of our times.


A gathering of Moss

Works featuring Kate Moss provide an extraordinary snapshot of recent art ...

Kate Moss by Stella Vine Kate Moss by Lisa Yuskavage Kate Moss by Tracey Emin
Kate Moss by Richard Prince Kate Moss by Chuck Close Kate Moss by Banksy
Kate Moss by Takashi Murakami Kate Moss by Julian Opie Kate Moss by Alex Katz


First row from left to right, works by: Gary Hume (detail) courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube, © Gary Hume; Takashi Murakami (detail) © Takashi Murakami; Lucian Freud © Lucian Freud

Second row: Richard Prince courtesy W Magazine, © Richard Prince; Chuck Close courtesy W Magazine, © Chuck Close; Banksy © Banksy

Third row: Julian Opie © Julian Opie; © Gary Hume; Tracey Emin (detail) courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube © Tracey Emin; Lisa Yuskavage courtesy W Magazine, © Lisa Yuskavage

Fourth row: Marc Quinn courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube © Marc Quinn; Stella Vine © Stella Vine; Alex Katz courtesy W Magazine © Alex Katz

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