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March 12 2012

Artists come together in a Crisis

The Crisis Commission at London's Somerset House will feature new works by artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin

A small and poignant bronze sculpture of a young man called Craig – who became homeless after serving in Afghanistan – will greet visitors to a new exhibition to raise awareness and money for the charity Crisis.

The work by Gillian Wearing goes on display at Somerset House in London on 14 March along with new pieces by artists including Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Sir Anthony Caro and Jonathan Yeo. All the works will be sold on 3 May, with the money going to the charity for single homeless people, Crisis.

Wearing said she was inspired by the real story of Craig O'Keefe who became homeless after returning from duty in Afghanistan. Eventually, with the help of Veteran's Aid, he managed to get work and a flat and is now a volunteer tutor for Crisis.

"Crisis were great because they really wanted artists to get involved directly with their charity," said Wearing. She was part of a workshop meeting people who work for and used its services. "It wasn't a passive involvement which I really thought was important."

Emin offered four works: two self-portraits and two neon signs saying Trust Me and Trust Yourself. She said they were words we often say to others and to ourselves. "Sometimes such statements need to be reaffirmed. The use of neon makes it all the more positive."

The two self-portraits, Deep Blue III and Deep Blue V, are part of a series Emin created for her forthcoming show at Turner Contemporary in Margate, in which she explores the idea "of the body becoming older, self-loathing and the notion of self-preservation".

Emin said she did not do anything different because the show was for Crisis. "I'm quite impressed at what a big show it is and how serious it is and not just a charity event."

Gormley has made a cast iron sculpture of a person we assume to be homeless. "The most challenging social sculpture of our times is made by the quiet performances of the homeless within the shelter provided by the doorways of the shops of our inner cities."

He said he was trying to evoke a fallen body which is, nevertheless, not at rest. "This exhibition allows one to think about those bodies that have no place. I believe that sculpture can powerfully evoke the nameless, the voiceless and the placeless."

The Crisis Commission show raises money and awareness at a crucial time, says the charity. After years of declining trends, 2010 represented a turning point when all forms of homelessness began to rise. In 2010/11, 3,975 people slept rough in London, an 8% rise on the previous year.

The show runs until 22 April and will also feature work by homeless and vulnerable people who have been helped by Crisis.

The charity's chief executive Leslie Morphy said: "We are thrilled that so many leading contemporary artists are participating in the Crisis Commission. This prestigious event will raise much needed funds for our work and bring a new focus to the worrying current rise in homelessness in society."

Other works in the show include Yinka Shonibare's Homeless Man, 2012, which shows a vibrantly dressed Victorian man weighed down by 11 suitcases. The artist said: "The idea of the work is to suggest that any privileged person can become vulnerable at any time due to circumstances outside of their own personal control, such as illness, death of a relative, war or unfortunate economic circumstances."

The artist Bob and Roberta Smith (also known as Patrick Brill) has made a piece called Kite because of its association with isolation and the elements. "My kite has 'help' written on it. It is a cry for help by the person flying it."

Brill said he was aware of homelessness rising and taught in an art school where some of his students are homeless. "Homelessness is about isolation. Homes are not just roofs and walls – they are networks – about nurture and care."

The show has been curated by Laurence Sillars, chief curator at the Baltic in Gateshead and the cost of creating the works has been met by GlaxoSmithKline. All of them will be auctioned at Christie's on 3 May.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


December 19 2011

Would-be saviour of £15 million paintings hits back at Church Commissioners

The unholy saga of the Francisco de Zurbarán paintings at Auckland Castle just gets worse and worse. Our religious correspondent Riazat Butt reflects.

To Durham, where there is not much in the way of festive cheer now a £15m art deal has bitten the dust, and a fascinating insight into the Church of England, power and politics.

While the sale appeared to be on shaky ground for some time, the story has sprouted legs thanks to a remarkable and revealing article from banker and would be art-buyer Jonathan Ruffer, who blows the whistle in the latest edition of the Church Times on his spat with the Church Commissioners, who manage the Church of England's investment portfolio, and its top dog, Andreas Whittam Smith. Yes - that one.

Stokesley-born Ruffer was to buy Francisco de Zurbarán's paintings from the Church Commissioners and keep them at Auckland Castle, which Ruffer proposed should be restored, held in trust and become a major heritage attraction.

I am indebted to the Northern Echo for carrying an interview with Ruffer and excerpts from the article, which is by turns, astonishing and exquisite:

Andreas Whittam Smith is by nature a buccaneer: quick to offer the hand of friendship, decisive and brave. He generously accepted an apology for a remark I made which had hurt him. Andrew Brown is a very different character, the antithesis of the smutty joke: he is wholesome, serious, and dutiful. He would make an excellent minor royal. Yet these men have managed to torpedo two deals, to the detriment of one of the neediest regions of the UK.

If you'll indulge me I'm going to paste entire paragraphs from the Church Times piece - I assume you don't have subscriptions and this fine Anglican organ does go behind a paywall - so do please read on.

Ruffer continues:

Andreas and Andrew are neither mischievous nor malicious. They are decent men who have gone wrong. Through a historic accident, and a few 'myths of convenience', they appear to be no longer accountable to dio­cesan bishops or even the arch­bishops.

True, the diocesans get to elect an acting chairman, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is the actual chairman, but I have seen at first-hand how the present incumbents are treated. The acting chairman's offerings are treated as "suggestions", and I witnessed last month the Primate of All England pleading for the future of the Castle. The Archbishop pleading; Andreas untouchable, untouched (my italics).

It suits the First Church Estates Commissioner to promote this chimera of absolute power. Here is Andreas in the General Synod, swatting the bluebottles of outrage at the disposal of the Octavia Hill Estates: "The assets committee of the Church Commissioners under the law establishing the Church Commis­sioners has exclusive control over the assets.

And Ruffer keeps landing those blows:

I have had to deal with these people not only with the Zurbaráns but also in my position as chairman of the Auckland Castle regeneration project. The evasions and disappointments have come like grouse — sometimes singly, sometimes in coveys.

I had to look up covey in a dictionary, I thought he had misspelled convoy, but no.

Amazingly, he has enough outrage to plough on. He concludes by saying that he issued the Church Commissioners with a deadline, it passed, thereby

...making it two slaps in the face for County Durham from the First Church Estates Commissioner and his chief executive.

Brilliant stuff.

But Ruffer insists he has not abandoned the deal altogether. He told the Northern Echo:

I'm still absolutely up for it. I will dare to make a suggestion out of my own pocket to square the circle – I am offering to put a lot more money in and I am hoping they will help me.

He said he was defending his reputation with the article:

I am explaining how someone can give a £15m gift and then go back on it – that seems a dishonourable thing to do and I look cowardly and untrustworthy.


The bishop of Durham, the Church Commissioners and Ruffer will meet this week to resolve the issue. Oh to be a fly on the wall at that summit - but not a bluebottle.


guardian.co.uk © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


May 19 2010

Hunt: arts cuts to be offset by lottery boost

Tory minister's inaugural speech woos arts community with promise of increased lottery cash – but admits the numbers don't add up

Maev Kennedy

The new culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has promised the arts unqualified love, more lottery money and a major drive to increase philanthropic giving – but spending cuts are almost inevitable, he admitted.

In his first public speech since taking up the post, delivered to invited representatives of quangos, museums, theatres and arts organisations at London's Roundhouse, the only solid promise of new money came from a commitment that arts, heritage and grassroots sport would receive an increased share of lottery profits, back to the levels they received when the lottery was founded in 1994. In return, all grant-givers, including the Arts Council, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, would be expected to spend no more than 5% of their budget on administration costs.

Although he stressed repeatedly the limitations of what could be achieved in the current financial environment, Hunt reassured those in the arts community who feared disproportionate cuts. "What I can promise you is this," he said. "Culture will not be singled out as a soft target."

Another strand of Hunt's thinking emerged yesterday, when many arts organisations were surprised to get phonecalls from the department asking for the names of their top donors. Today Hunt revealed he would be writing personally to the biggest 200 philanthropists, in and outside Britain, thanking them for their support, urging them to continue, and asking for their ideas.

He also promised reform of the Gift Aid scheme, to make it simpler and less restrictive. But tax breaks for philanthropic giving, recommended years ago in the Goodison report, will almost certainly have to wait. There would be tough negotiations with the Treasury, Hunt said, but he admitted: "There isn't the money there for tax breaks now."

He also conceded that the likelihood of cuts in DCMS spending – and with it to the grant in aid to the Arts Council, English Heritage and the directly funded museums and galleries – would result in a gap in funding. "It is entirely possible that we won't be able to bridge the gap this year," he said.

Hunt's personal relish for his new brief was beyond question. "It is the most incredible privilege to do what I am doing," he said, adding: "I want you to know that this government's commitment to the arts goes right to the top." In his first five minutes he name-checked Picasso, quoted a poem by the Russian dissident Osip Mandelstam – not, he hoped, any relation of Lord Mandelson – and raved about both the play Jerusalem, and the anarchic cabaret La Clique, a show he saw at the Roundhouse.

"I wasn't thinking about creative exports or leveraged investment," he said. "I was enjoying artistic excellence. Art for art's sake. That is my starting point as secretary of state for culture."

He cited Jerusalem, which began at the small, subsidised Royal Court, went on to become a big money-earner in the West End and is to transfer to Broadway, as "a perfect example of how subsidising our cultural life is one of the best investments we can make".

He ended with words from the artist Grayson Perry, and also quoted the Guardian's chief arts writer, Charlotte Higgins, who threatened to break his legs if he hurt the arts – only hurt wasn't precisely the word she used. He promised he wouldn't.

Hunt also reassured many with a personal commitment to free museum admission – singling out the Labour secretary who introduced it, Chris Smith, for praise – and to the free public library network.

Hunt's ambition, he said, was to build more stable long-term funding for the arts.

Alistair Spalding, director of Sadlers Wells theatre, no doubt spoke for many in the room when he said to Hunt: "I am in a bit of a state of shock, because I more or less agree with everything you said."


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