On the left, the ring setting, awaiting the diamond made from the artist's cremains. On the right, museumgoers looking over the contracts for the procedure.
Through the ages, artists have found ways to pose the question of whether they are selling their bodies when they're selling their works. The American artist Jill Magid is turning herself into a diamond ring for sale.
The contract between the artist and the company LifeGem ("Ashes to Diamonds") is written and signed. The paperwork rests in a display case at the Henry Art Gallery, where museumgoers pore over them (as pictured above in a different installation of the same piece in Barcelona). Behind that case is a small alcove—spotlit like any jewelry-store display—containing the empty gold ring setting, waiting to receive the artist's body. The diamond type has been spelled out in the contract: one carat, round cut.
Nobody has bought it (her) yet. The piece is titled Auto Portrait Pending. The buyer agrees not only to possess the ring, but also to steward its continued life even after the owner's death. With this ring, the artist weds art for all time. (Considering buying? See the snapshot on the jump to read the Beneficiary requirements. For instance, you're not allowed to wear the ring, or close the box.)
At least three of her works have involved diamonds. Shirley's Diamond, from 2002, is a 15-carat diamond found on a street by Magid's grandmother, who hid it away in a safe-deposit box. It was found after Magid's grandmother died—a huge diamond that had spent its life in the dark, that "never really got to be a diamond" at all, Magid wrote.
The Salem Diamonds is another kind of diamond artwork entirely: not a private passing forth of immortal value, but a proposed public memorial that resonates with war memorials (especially Maya Lin's reflective Vietnam wall). The Salem Diamonds would have contained small diamonds made from the unclaimed cremains of 3,489 Oregon state mental institution patients. Magid went so far as to present the proposal to the Oregon State Senate.