T he philanthropist and Founder of the Art of Wishes, Batia Ofer is something of a legend. Through an extensive network of artists, galleries and institutions, she organises and hosts events, commissions new works and raises awareness for Make-A-Wish Foundation UK, with the sole aim of granting life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Channelling the very natural synergy between the creativity shown by artists and the creativity demonstrated by children when dreaming up their wishes, the Art of Wishes auction aims to deliver moments of wonder, intrigue and excitement. At this special art auction, the selected works offer a vibrant sense of immediacy, reflecting the social issues of our times and the changing landscape of the art world. We spoke to Batia, the Founder and Chair of the Art of Wishes about the concept behind this initiative, curating the sale and how some of the best-known artists in the world have joined her in bringing a little sparkle of magic and happiness into the lives of children living with a critical condition.
How do you begin the process of selecting artworks for the auction?
I begin by thinking about what I want the take-home message of the auction to be. For this year’s auction, I focused on addressing the current state of the world by curating a collection that reflects the biggest issues we are facing around the world. For instance, pieces by artists such as Rashid Johnson and Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe were chosen to shine a light on the racial issues that have arisen recently. We put together a longlist of artists and specific artworks, and work through them methodically to identify our final selection.
What are the criteria for selecting artists?
Our selection process is mainly centred around the quality of the art and how each piece communicates our overall message. However, it is very important to me that any and every collection I put together showcases a diverse range of talent in terms of race, gender and socioeconomic background. Fortunately, the calibre of work being created by the artists selected is of such a consistently high standard that we always have a wealth of options to choose from. We often wish we could include more.
Do you have any favourite items in previous sales that are especially memorable?
In 2017, Tracey Emin donated three pieces in response to a child’s wish to go on holiday in Wales with her pony. The child, Grace, had grown up loving horses. The week before she became ill, Grace and her Mum were on holiday in Wales with Grace’s pony, Tiny. Grace’s mum knew something was wrong when Grace had a long seizure and a scan showed that she had a brain tumour. When Grace turned to Make-A-Wish, she wished to go on holiday to North Wales with her mum, her dog, Daisy, and Tiny. Grace and her family enjoyed a wonderful bank holiday weekend at their holiday cabin with a paddock next door for Tiny. She played with Daisy, explored the rock pools and rode Tiny twice a day on the beach. Tracey's art depicted Grace's trip so beautifully, and are pieces that remain in my mind to this day.
Are there any pieces you feel especially excited by in the forthcoming sale?
This year, I’m especially excited about Jenny Saville’s work. It symbolises children helping other children and whilst the expressions on the children’s faces reflect the extreme hardships they’ve been through, there is also a sense of hope and optimism, which Jenny portrays with her use of bright and abstract hues of colour.
Why did you choose to partner with Sotheby’s for this auction?
Sotheby’s is one of the largest and most prestigious auction houses in the world and an institution that I respect and have a longstanding relationship with. I sit on their International Council and have always found the team extremely professional and good at what they do. When the opportunity arose for us to partner on the Art of Wishes, I jumped at the chance and am delighted that we have been able to collaborate on such an important and meaningful project.
Are there any wishes from children that have been made recently which you are hoping to support through this forthcoming sale?
Since the lifting of restrictions we have seen a heartbreaking increase in rush and priority wishes. A rush wish is where a child has a prognosis of less than six months to live. Sadly this means Make-A-Wish often have only days to grant the wish when the child is referred to them. A priority wish is a child with a prognosis of less than twelve months, or is classed as a medical priority due to a forthcoming major operation (such as an organ transplant), or is about to undertake a significant intervention (such as chemotherapy). Prior to the pandemic Make-A-Wish received eight such referrals per month. Since the lifting of restrictions in May Make-A-Wish UK have seen a heart-breaking increase in rush and priority wishes, where a child has a prognosis of less than six, or twelve months to live. Sadly, this can often mean they only have days to grant the wish when a child is referred to them. We don’t have the luxury of time. We need to act now.
Art of Wishes is a charitable initiative that brings the international art community together to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation UK. Driven by the vision of its Founder Batia Ofer, Art of Wishes engages a wide network of artists, collectors, galleries and institutions to host events, commission new works and raise awareness, with the sole aim of granting lifechanging wishes for children with critical illnesses.