Joshua Raz, Green Lights Above a Blue Planet and Man Amongst It All, 2017. © Joshua Raz, courtesy of Phillips.
Six-year-old Grace yearned to go on holiday in Wales with her pony; nine-year-old Nicole wanted to have her own painting exhibition at a gallery; seven-year-old Felix dreamed of becoming Electroman, a superhero with electric powers. These wishes represent just three from over 11,000 children who, since 1986, have had their greatest desires realized through Make-A-Wish UK. The non-profit—which was founded in the United States in 1980, and now has branches across the world—specializes in creating bespoke experiences to inspire hope and optimism in kids, ages three to 17, who are suffering from life-threatening medical conditions.
This fall’s Make-A-Wish UK fundraising gala is especially high-profile, with an array of famous artists lending a hand, including Tracey Emin, Rob Pruitt, Eddie Martinez, and Gillian Wearing. Make-A-Wish patron and art collector Batia Ofer coordinated with leading London galleries and auction houses to commission 18 artists to create new works inspired by individual Make-A-Wish children. The culminating event, The Art of Wishes Fundraising Gala, will take place on October 2nd at the Dorchester Hotel in London; the newly commissioned works will be shown at the Serpentine Galleries on October 1st and are being sold to benefit the charity through an online auction (which, full disclosure, Artsy is hosting).
Gillian Wearing, Me as Margot, 2017. © Gillian Wearing, courtesy of Maureen Paley.
Idris Khan, A wish for Moon, Stars and Planets, 2017. © Idris Khan, courtesy of Victoria Miro.
“What’s beautiful with Make-A-Wish is that we’re trying to find out the child’s most coveted dream, and that’s what’s really important here,” says Ofer, who is the chair of the event, and has been working with the charity for over nine years, in Israel and London. As a member of the Sotheby’s council and a consultant for Frieze London, Ofer has been aligning her passions for art and Make-A-Wish for several years, through organizing benefit auctions like this one. Rather than culling together existing works donated by major artists, this year’s auction brings together the original stories of real children, and asks artists to create compositions in direct response to them.
“From my experience doing art auctions in the past, people don’t feel a connection to the charity once they look at the art,” Ofer explains. “I thought: How do we bring everything together and make something more meaningful?”
Since conceiving the idea two years ago, Ofer has reached out to international dealers like Jay Jopling, Larry Gagosian, and Thaddaeus Ropac, as well as leaders at the big three auction houses, and asked them each to select an artist to be involved.
Tracey Emin, I Wish For You, 2017. © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2016. Photo © White Cube (George Darrell).
Angel Otero, The Queen’s Dreams, 2016. © Angel Otero, courtesy of Lehmann Maupin.
The 18 artists involved were then given a file with some 30 stories (with the permission of the childrens’ families), detailing their wishes and the resulting experiences. Artists were asked to choose one as a point of departure for a new work; beyond that parameter, they had freedom to create whatever they liked. “Every artist really thought about what they were going to do to express and convey the story of the child,” Ofer notes.
Tracey Emin, for example, created three paintings picturing Grace riding through the countryside on her pony, Tiny. Make-A-Wish “is so touching and simple and works on so many levels,” Emin said of the organization in a statement. “A few years ago a teenage girl made a wish to come and work for me at the studio, but she never made it. Sadly she passed away just before, but I know she was looking forward to it and I know wishes give hope.”
For his contribution, Rob Pruitt created a portrait that splices together the faces of various Star Wars characters; the work was in honor of Oliver, a six-year-old with an undiagnosed genetic condition, who wished to “train as a Jedi with Obi-Wan Kenobi and fight Darth Maul.” Thomas Demand and Oliver Beer responded to Tamir, a boy with a brain tumor who wished to receive a viola and play with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Gillian Wearing created a drawing of herself inspired by Amy, a teenager with leukemia who wanted to spend a day as a ballerina at the Royal Ballet School in London.
Thomas Demand, Untitled, 2017. © Thomas Demand, courtesy Sprüth Magers.
For Nicole, who wished for her own painting show, Angel Otero created a painting and Skyped with the young girl so that she could see it and title it; she named it The Queen’s Dreams (2016). And three different artists, Idris Khan, Stefan Brüggemann, and Jan Frank, were drawn to Matthew, a three-year-old with bone cancer who wished to be an astronaut for a day. “It was actually beautiful to see how different artists portrayed the story in a different manner,” Ofer notes.
Khan’s work, titled A wish for Moon, Stars and Planets (2017), is an expressive gray canvas covered with words. “I made an oil background a few years ago by pouring oil paint down the paper over and over again and it made an interesting shape at the bottom; it looked like a tree trunk,” Khan explains. “I started writing the words ‘moon,’ ‘stars,’ and ‘planets’ over and over, and they started to look like branches of trees. I thought there was something nice about a child’s wish being caught in an abstract image of a tree. I am so humbled by what Make-A-Wish does, and I’m so happy that hopefully this piece can raise some money towards helping children like Matthew realize their wishes.”
Ofer recalls recently meeting an eight-year-old girl who had recently had her wish granted. “She said to me, ‘When I knew that I was going to have my wish fulfilled, I thought: If I can have this thing that I want most in the world, then why can’t I win the battle over cancer?’’ she remembers. “It’s such a strong, meaningful moment for these children and their families, and it brings them so much hope and optimism.”
A previous version of this article misstated that Gillian Wearing drew herself as Margot, a teenager with leukemia who wanted to be a ballerina at the Royal Ballet School in London. The teenager’s name is Amy.