Stars of British art world donate works for Grenfell fire survivors

LONDON (Reuters) - A group of Britain’s most successful contemporary artists has donated valuable works to sell at a charity auction for the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed about 80 people at a London social housing block in June.

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Home to a close-knit, multi-ethnic community, the 24-storey tower in a deprived housing estate was reduced to a charred ruin by the inferno that engulfed it in the middle of the night.

Many survivors have yet to be rehoused and are still living in hotels.

The charity auction, to be held at Sotheby’s on Monday, includes works by A-list artists including Wolfgang Tillmans, Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Mark Wallinger and Rachel Whiteread.

The proceeds from the auction, which Sotheby’s estimates will range between 700,000 and 1 million pounds ($926,000-$1.3 million), will be divided equally among 158 surviving families.

Film producer Hamish McAlpine, an art collector who was one of the driving forces behind the auction, said the Grenfell tragedy had had a huge emotional impact on Londoners, including the city’s vibrant artistic community.

“Grenfell touched their souls,” he said in an interview at Sotheby’s in an airy gallery where the donated artworks are on display. “It’s a very emotive subject for people in London.”

It would normally take six to nine months to organise an auction on this scale, but McAlpine and art consultant Katie Heller were able to put this one together in about 10 weeks thanks to the positive response from almost all the artists.

McAlpine said famous artists were constantly bombarded with requests to donate works for charity and could not always give, but in this case almost everyone had agreed immediately.

“There has been an extraordinary generosity within the artists’ community,” he said. “To give a work that’s worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, for free, it really is a magical thing.”

One of the works, “Lay the Dust with Tears” by Tacita Dean, was created especially for the auction. A grey and black image made with charcoal on paper, it is evocative of billowing smoke.

Other works that already existed have been renamed by the artists to honour the victims of the fire.

“Red Lens for Grenfell” by Anish Kapoor is a thick acrylic disc, reminiscent of lenses used in lighthouses, while a black-and-white photograph by Sarah Lucas has been renamed “Eating a Banana (for Grenfell)”.

The most valuable artwork for sale is “Freischwimmer 193” by Wolfgang Tillmans, a very large green print. The estimated price range is 120,000 to 180,000 pounds.

Editing by Stephen Addison