Saucersful of secret good deeds inspire art-lovers at London's Foundling Museum

Alice Jones' Arts Diary

Will you get a lucky ticket? From next Friday, 10 visitors a day to London’s Foundling Museum will be randomly selected to take home an artwork. The catch? They have to promise to do a good deed in return.

Ceramic artist Clare Twomey has filled a room with 1550 customised cups and saucers, each one of which is printed on the base with an instruction. If the selected ticket-holders agree to it, they keep the cup, leaving behind a saucer printed with a reminder of their good deed. Gillian Anderson and Penelope Curtis, director of Tate Britain are among the hundreds who have suggested favours, ranging from the simple, “Buy a Big Issue”, “Send flowers to your Mum” to the life-changing “Adopt a child.”

“That could be the one cup left at the end of the exhibition, or it could be the inspiration for someone to do that”, says Stephanie Chapman, Curator at the museum. “Others are really interesting, like ‘Offer to cut the toenails of an old person’ – a good deed that is genuinely useful.”

The Foundling was established in 1739 as a hospital for “exposed and deserted” children. Hogarth and Handel were among the early supporters of the charity, helping to create the UK’s first public gallery with their contributions. Twomey’s work, titled Exchange, continues this tradition of artistic philanthropy. The room full of rows of cups laid out on five long trestle tables is designed to evoke the refectory of the old Hospital. The act of swapping cup for deed, meanwhile, is meant to mirror the heartbreaking exchange of the mothers who left a child with the charity in the hope of a better life.

“Some of the good deeds are quite simple, some are quite challenging so people will really have to think before they take the cup”, says Chapman. “They will all sign a log book and we’ll encourage them to feedback via social media when they have done their deed.”

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