THE glitter has just settled on Frieze, London’s art fair for top collectors and manicured millionaires currently buoying the top of the art market. But in a year when inequality in London became more glaring than ever, let’s hope the capital’s most fortunate still have reserves: on October 16, Art For Grenfell seeks to raise £1m for the 164 surviving families of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Tracey Emin, Tacita Dean, Martin Creed and Harland Miller have all donated works for the auction, which is to be held at Sotheby’s, with a pre-sale exhibition from October 12. Rachel Whiteread, the Turner Prize-winning artist currently the subject of a solo show at Tate Britain, has also donated a work, as has Phyllida Barlow, Britain’s representative at this year’s Venice Biennale.
The real highlight, though, according to one of the auction’s driving forces, the art consultant Katie Heller, is a work by Wolfgang Tillmans. “It’s from a very rare series of work, and he was incredibly generous,” says Heller, a long-time resident of west London, who was moved to pull together the auction with the film producer and collector Hamish McAlpine just a few days after the catastrophic fire in north Kensington.
“Hamish and I were both incensed by what had happened. We wanted to do something,” she says. McAlpine is a collector who has supported many of the YBAs; Heller is an art advisor who spent four years of her career setting up an art programme for a homeless charity in conjunction with House of St Barnabus, a not-for-profit members club. “I was very used to asking artists to donate work, and we encouraged people to offer original works rather than prints,” says Heller. “The response has been great: very few people said no. Most artists felt very saddened by what had happened.”
Heller and McAlpine’s main challenge instead lay in finding a charity who could ensure that the entirety of the money raised at auction would reach the remaining 164 families, 12 of which have been re-housed. After extensive consultation they settled on the Rugby Portobello Trust. “They have been working with the families for a long time, and had their bank details. We wanted them to have the money in time for Christmas. We have an agreement that the Portobello Trust will take the money and divide it up equally by 10 December.”
Some critics have questioned the logic of helping Grenfell victims with the proceeds of an art auction held in Mayfair, an incredibly affluent pocket of London. For some, it allows the appalling irony by which unknown numbers of poverty-stricken people burned to death in the richest borough in Britain to resurface. The issue is not lost on Heller. “We were very conscious of this, but ultimately I think those who have, need to give to those who don’t have.” She is at pains to stress that the families of Grenfell and the charities involved in helping them were all consulted at length early on after the idea was mooted, “and both said that they were grateful that people were helping in any way that they could. The art market deals in billions of pounds worth and art and it’s great that we can access that for those who need it most.”
The families, many of whom are still living in hotel rooms, have been invited to view the art alongside the artists over the next few days. There are further plans in the works to offer art therapy classes, workshops, and create partnerships between local schools through shared art classes and projects. Says Heller: “Art for Grenfell is an initiative that seeks to use art to help support the families – the auction is just the beginning.”
Art For Grenfell is on 16 October at 7.30pm. Clients are able to bid by telephone, online and absentee bids, but should you wish to bid in person please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.