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Art for action: how to make powerful purchases during the pandemic

If you’re planning on buying art at the moment, there are a wealth of auctions and initiatives to make your investment go further and mean more, says KATIE BERRINGTON

The Gathering, Noel Fielding, 2019; Courage, Schoony, 2020 – both in the Art For Heroes campaign

As the world reels from the impact of Covid-19 across all sectors and communities, the art scene has rallied its creative power to bring people together and support vital work and research. While galleries and auction houses have shuttered their doors during the pandemic, many have taken sales online instead, and some are using these for charitable effect. Maddox Gallery has set up the #ArtForHeroes campaign, from which proceeds will go to Heroes – a charity founded by and for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers. In fact, 30 of the gallery’s artists – including Grayson Perry, Marc Quinn, Cayla Birk and Coco Dávez – have donated artworks to the initiative, and purchases will go directly towards helping those on the frontline fight.

Hauser & Wirth, too, announced a philanthropic initiative as a response to the crisis, titled #artforbetter. Its first action has been to donate 10 percent of sales from online exhibitions to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, with longer-term plans in the pipeline. The program of exhibitions includes George Condo’s ‘Drawings for Distanced Figures’ and presentations of new works by Lorna Simpson and Rashid Johnson. “It became clear that these critical times demand a charitable response,” said the gallery’s co-founder, Iwan Wirth. “We see ourselves as members of a worldwide community, and our support of the World Health Organization is a way to participate in an immediate humanitarian effort that supersedes borders.”

Work from American artists Kaws (left) and Eddie Martinez in the We All Rise coloring book

Contributions have also come from big-name artists in the industry. Damien Hirst created a bespoke ‘Butterfly Rainbow’ artwork for the NHS, adorned with his well-known motif of colorful butterfly wings. A limited-edition run was sold in aid of healthcare workers, while posters are available for people to download and display in their windows as a visual mark of solidarity and support for the NHS. The Library Street Collective has released the We All Rise coloring book, featuring drawings and graphics from 29 artists including Virgil Abloh, Nick Cave, Nina Chanel Abney and Kaws. All proceeds from books sold goes to the Detroit Public Schools food-distribution program.

Forced to forego its annual high-profile fundraiser at the Cannes Film Festival this spring, amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research) announced a new partnership with Christie’s, with the joint goal of supporting vital Covid-19 research. There will be a dedicated global auction, entitled From the Studio, at Christie’s New York featuring a series of artworks donated by collectors and artists. AmfAR will put the proceeds towards its new Fund to Fight Covid-19, an expansion of its leading research efforts to develop treatments for the new coronavirus.

Butterfly Heart, Damien Hirst, 2020
Bus Stop, Bianca Cedrone, 2019; Heads Up, Thumbs Down, Lee Kay-Barry, 2020 – both artists on The Artsphere

But the art world is also having to find ways to supports its own, as the impacts of the pandemic have ricocheted through the creative industries. Brand-new initiatives have been born in the midst of the world going into lockdown, to give opportunities to those just starting out. The Artsphere has launched as a new online platform for emerging artists, formed by an all-women global team – who have only ever collectively met via Zoom. Its first initiative, ‘Art for Good. Art for Now’, provides exposure and means for upcoming artists to sell their work, while also raising money and awareness for UK charity Gingerbread, which offers support to single-parent families.

The Contemporary Art Society has been crowdfunding via its CAS Rapid Response Fund, in partnership with Frieze London, to help freelance artists and local museums survive. Museums in the network can apply for funds to buy artworks that will support them via sales when they are allowed to reopen again. Furthermore, four artists – David Shrigley, Yinka Shonibare, Eddie Peake and Linder – have designed face masks that are being sold (at £35 each, or £120 for all four), with all money going to the fund.

A face mask designed by British artist Linder

Photographer Wolfgang Tillmans has organized fundraising campaign Solidarity 2020 with his foundation Between Bridges. It will sell posters designed by more than 50 international artists, including Elizabeth Peyton and Gillian Wearing, to help independent art and music venues at risk of closure because of lockdown. The idea is that venues will sell the posters directly and receive 100 per cent of the proceeds. Tillmans’ offering is a photograph of a still life taken in his studio, which was the last image the photographer had printed prior to lockdown. For her poster, Wearing chose a photograph from her archive, showing a man with his lower face covered by a bandana and holding a sign saying, ‘All I Ever Wanted Was Love’. A message for the moment, from a community coming together in the face of crisis.


Work from the late artist David Wojnarowicz features in the 2020 Solidarity project


NET-A-PORTER collaborated with a number of designers to create a range of limited-edition tops this year, with 100 percent of the profits going to global charity Women for Women International.

The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown