Some of Britain’s finest artists, including six winners of the Turner Prize, have come together to help raise money for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, which saw an estimated 80 people die in a high-rise block in the west of the British capital this summer.
An auction, which will be held this evening at Sotheby’s in Mayfair, is set to raise at least £1 million (Dh4.9m) for the 158 surviving families who lost their homes in the inferno, many of whom have been living in hotel rooms and other temporary accommodation since the terrible events of the early hours of June 14.
More than 30 works have been donated for the sale, all personally given by the individual artists, save for a piece donated from the personal collection of gallerist Sadie Coles, a former Notting Hill resident.
Art for Grenfell, the body behind the auction, was founded by film producer Hamish McAlpine and art consultant Katie Heller in the days after the disaster, when many local residents were looking for ways to help survivors face challenges in the wake of the fire – namely the need for new accommodation, and psychological and practical support in restarting their lives.
“The tragedy of Grenfell Tower has shocked us all,” McAlpine and Heller said in a statement. “Many questions remain unanswered, but what we all know is that this was a disaster that could easily have been prevented. For many people who escaped the building that awful night, life is catastrophically changed forever. Many are traumatised, bereft and have quite literally lost everything. There are so many heartbreaking stories and images of the fire that will live with us all forever.”
The aftermath of the fire has seen as shocking a failure of aid for the families as there was a failing in the services that were supposed to stop such a tragedy take place. Only a handful of people who lost their homes when the tower was devastated have been re-housed.
“The edifice of Grenfell Tower still stands as a reminder of the terrible failure of society to look after its less well-off people,” McAlpine and Heller continued. “In times of disaster, communities come together. When the government and local authorities failed to do enough to help the people of Grenfell Tower, the community organised donations; handing out food and clothes. In our case, we have invited the art community to make their own offerings and have been overwhelmed by their generosity and goodwill.”
Sotheby’s has waived any fees it would normally take. Harry Dalmeny, its United Kingdom chairman, explains how the close-to-home nature of the fire had struck all Londoners.
“The tragedy of the Grenfell disaster made headlines around the world, but for those of us living in London, the scars of which are still very raw,” he says. My route to Sotheby’s warehouse in Greenford takes me down the A40, past the haunting, charred remains of the tower.
“The awfulness of what happened is very close to home for all of us as Londoners, and my colleagues and I are therefore particularly glad to be able do something to support the victims, who remain so much in our minds.”
Similarly, the organisers of the sale found a charity that would distribute the takings of the auction without taking any of the money from the sale.
“One of our greatest challenges has not been to persuade artists to donate work, but to find a charity that would distribute the funds without taking any deductions whatsoever,” McAlpine and Heller said. “The Rugby Portobello Trust agreed to do just this and they will ensure that the funds will be distributed at the beginning of December, in time for Christmas.”
The RPT were involved within hours of the fire starting. Because they had worked in the North Kensington area for years, and were seen as a trusted organisation by those who had been displaced by the fire, residents came to them for help straight away and they literally opened the doors of their HQ at 1.30am that day to welcome survivors to safety and to offer emotional and practical support.
Since the fire, the RPT, which was formed in 2003 by a merger of three organisations that had worked in the area for more than 100 years, “has made a real and lasting difference for residents by adapting rapidly to respond to the disaster, working collaboratively with other agencies and helping practically with clothing, housing, grants and emotional therapy”, the organisation says.
“Both staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to deepen positive relationships with residents and to build even stronger relationships with the wider community. We are also helping to deliver grants from the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund and the K&C Foundation of up to £52,000 per household in Grenfell Tower, as well as facilitating the delivery of a white-goods package for residents moving into temporary and permanent accommodation.”
The list of artists involved in the auction reads like a roll call of the great and good of the British art scene of the past thirty years. Anish Kapoor, who won the Turner Prize in 1991, has create a bespoke piece for the sale, called Red Lens for Grenfell, which is expected to sell for £20,000 to £30,000.
Wolfgang Tillmans, another Turner winner (2000) who had a solo show at the Tate Modern earlier this year and whose work frequently sets records at auction, has donated a print that could at least double its estimate of £180,000, according to art world insiders.
Sculptor Antony Gormley, perhaps most famous for his Angel of the North statue near Newcastle, has given a cast-iron figure, Small Charge, which could bring in between £120,000 and £180,000.
Elsewhere, Tracey Emin has provided a neon work, Loving You More, while the celebrated war photographer Don McCullin has given one of his dark and brooding landscape photographs. Rachel Whiteread, who was the first woman to win the Turner Prize (1994), has also donated a collage called Open Door, while fellow prize winners Martin Creed, Keith Tyson and Mark Wallinger also feature.
There is also work from the enfants terribles of the art world, Jake and Dinos Chapman, alongside a silk-screen print from Harland Miller, Who Cares Win, which has an estimated price of between £20,000 and £25,000.
This past Saturday marked the four-month anniversary of the fire, and there have been growing concerns about the families who lost their homes. The inquiry into the fire, which began with an initial statement from Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the retired judge leading it, started a month earlier, on September 14. It was revealed this week that more than 500 individuals and organisations have applied to be core participants in the inquiry, which will allow them to make statements at the opening and closing stages.
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