Rachel Spence explores the Italian shop, Studio Sem, that produces marble statues for many of the world’s leading artists in the Financial Times. She finds dedicated craftsmen toiling for wages less than a bricklayers on art work that will sell for a price greater than a lifetime’s wages:
None of the artisans resent that the artists get all the glory; all have a strong sense of the boundaries between the roles. “The artist has the idea but lacks the manuality. You have to respect the artist and the artist has to respect you,” explains Pierangelo Ghelardini, son of Sem and employed at his father’s studio as a modeller. But he adds: “I don’t mind that they get the recognition for the idea; what is frustrating is that we earn so little for what we do.” An average salary for a trained marmista is around €1,500 per month.
Spence goes on to describe the artisan’s work with a litany of famous artists:
Studio Sem, which also realised Damien Hirst’s “Anatomy of an Angel”, the semi-flayed celestial messenger that sold for just over £1m at Sotheby’s in September 2008. The studio was opened in 1957 by Sem Ghelardini whose legend – as artisan, partisan and bon viveur – lives on 12 years after his death. Ghelardini was also the first to see that Pietrasanta’s future lay in avant-garde sculpture, not with sacred statuary, commissions for which all but dried up after the Second Vatican Council in 1962. His studio became a magnet for abstractionists such as Henry Moore, Henri-Georges Adam and André Bloc. […]
According to proprietor, Franco Cervietti, Quinn visits regularly. “He gives instructions, checks the process and gives the OK. But he never puts his hand [on the marble].” Although his studio prefers not to discuss the matter, it’s no secret that Damien Hirst never visited Studio Sem; he sent a resin model for “Anatomy of an Angel” and approved the marble through photographs. Hirst is not alone in his hands-off approach: Jeff Koons, who realised “Bourgeois Bust” (1991) at Studio Cervietti, and Maurizio Cattelan, who has his pieces made in Carrara, are also primarily “ideas men”. The extraordinary success of these artists is the fruit of an artistic culture which values concepts as highly as – and often much higher than – manual skill.
The drawing power of Pietrasanta’s quarries (Financial Times)