Pound of Flesh

Human blood sculpture coming to New York City in a Norman Foster cage

British artist Marc Quinn's Odyssey will feature two cubes of frozen human blood to shine a light on the global refugee crisis. As a "migrating artwork," it will debut at the New York Public Library next fall in a Norman Foster–designd cage and then tour the world. (Courtesy PRNewsfoto/Marc Quinn)

A new installation coming next year to New York City could be the strangest piece of visual art the creative capital has seen. British contemporary artist Marc Quinn has envisioned a sculpture made of human blood, intended as a commentary on the ongoing global refugee crisis. It’s set to debut on the steps of the iconic Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library in fall 2019 in a Norman Foster–designed structure, and it will then embark on a traveling tour.

Odyssey, as the work is aptly named, will feature two transparent cubes filled with one metric ton each of frozen human blood. The artwork will be the centerpiece of a nonprofit project aimed to help raise awareness and raise $30 million for refugee-support organizations around the world. Fifty percent of the project’s proceeds will directly benefit the International Rescue Committee, while the other half will go to charities and programs selected by Quinn’s foundation, Human Love.

“The global refugee crisis is one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies we have seen,” said Quinn in a statement. “The idea for Odyssey began with the simple truth that my blood and your blood is the same; under the skin we’re all the same.”

To demonstrate the concept that our blood unites us as humans, Quinn will draw donated blood from over 5,000 refugees and non-refugees alike to go inside the identical cubes. One cube will hold the blood of resettled refugee volunteers while the other cube will hold the blood of celebrities such as Jude Law, Bono, Kate Moss, Paul McCartney, and others. The cubes won’t be marked, so it’ll be up to viewers to reflect on the similarities between the two.


Quinn is slated to begin gathering the blood this January by stationing small laboratories in cities across the world, all set up to match medical and ethical standards, according to The Guardian. Every person who donates blood will be able to contribute a short video message about their reasons for joining the effort. Refugees will have the opportunity to share their past traumas and bring attention to those still in crisis.

Odyssey will go on tour around the world after its initial stint at the New York Public Library. The accompanying footage will be displayed across public screens and billboards throughout the host cities. In addition, the artwork will be displayed inside a steel-framed pavilion designed by Sir Norman Foster and backed by the Norman Foster Foundation. Foster noted the difficult yet poignant task of creating a traveling structure for this invaluable piece of art:

“Art can raise issues of equality and inequality. That has to be one of the functions of art,” he said. “In Odyssey we had a challenge: to create an environment that will work with the two frozen cubes of blood and be able to adapt to radically different locations and climates. This challenge is primarily architectural but is also an environmental one.

“In a way, perhaps that diversity of situations also highlights the diversity of the refugee crisis; it is not confined to one continent, nor to one kind of people. It’s universal—much like our humanity. We are all the same, under the skin.”

Anyone can donate blood or money to the project. Visit bloodcube.org for more.

Related Stories