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Mystery still surrounds artist behind ‘£70m gift’ of triptych

by Bill Bowder

THE GIFT of a sculpted, jewelled triptych of images of Christ on the cross, The Man Delusion, estimated as worth £70 mil­lion, was declined by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral last Friday.

A cathedral spokesman said that it would take up a lot of space, and any proceeds from its sale would have had to be split with other benefici­aries. “The Cathedral Chapter took the decision on Friday, and the decision was emailed to the artist’s representative the same day,” the spokesman said. “We have not been able to be in touch with the artist, and all contact has been through his agent.”

Mystery has surrounded the pro­posed gift of the 15-foot-high work, weighing about three tons. The artist, said to be Kongthin Pearlmich, seems little known in the art world, and his works are not indexed in public galleries. Apparently, an identical work was sold to a private buyer in the United States for nearly £70 million.

The cathedral spokesman said that the proposed gift had been treated as genuine, but there had been no direct communication with the artist; and there were also conditions attached to the offer.

It would have had to be displayed for a year, and then: “We might have had the power to sell it, but we might not have done. The artist might have taken it back. If we did sell it, we would have received a third of the proceeds.”

The other two-thirds would have been divided between Caritas Com­munity Charitable Trust and the restoration fund of King’s College, Cambridge, he said.

The Chaplain of King’s, the Revd Richard Lloyd Morgan, when asked if he was “miffed” that Canterbury had declined the gift, said: “I don’t imagine that, if someone was to receive a cheque for a third of £70 million, they would refuse it.”

The three images were certainly striking, he said. “They are very big and very heavy, and are all made of reconstituted marble, even the frames. The figures are all identical, but one was white, another brown, and the third black against a mono­chrome background. I did like that. One had rubies where the heart would be; one was holding pearls; and the third had a diamond neck­lace around his feet.

“It was here for three days, and then packed up in crates and put into a truck. I have no idea where it has gone to: it’s bewildering in many ways. I don’t know if the artist was here. If he was, he did not make himself known.”

Michael Langton responded on Tuesday to an interview request made through the artist’s website. Mr Langton said that he was neither an artist nor a lawyer, but had been asked, a year ago, by a firm of inter­national lawyers who were handling the artist’s works, to find a suitable home for the triptych.

Asked for more details about the reclusive artist, he said that a catalogue of his 6000 works and 2000 poems would be available next year, and the artist’s website would be widely accessible within ten days. The artist, whose motivation was philan­thropic, lived between Paris and New York.

It had cost more than £40,000 to exhibit the piece in Cambridge, and speculation that the gift was a hoax was symptomatic of our society, Mr Langton said.

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