This article is from the (RED) edition of The Independent, guest-designed for 21 September 2006 by Giorgio Armani. Half the revenue from the edition will be donated to the Global Fund to Fight Aids.

Damien Hirst's £50 masterpiece

How has a small Palestinian gallery managed to attract the art world's biggest names? Saeed Taji Farouky on an inspiring coup

Their work may be worth a fortune, but under the rules of a new exhibition, As If By Magic, 25 world-class artists agreed to spend no more than £50 on materials and deliver a set of instructions to the modest Bethlehem Peace Centre in the occupied West Bank.

Constrained by politics, practicalities and the imagination of curators Charles Asprey and Kay Pallister, the artists were unable to ship any work directly to the venue. Instead, their chosen pieces were recreated, following their instructions, on the walls of the gallery. Each artist met the challenge in his or her own way: Gary Rough submitted a T-shirt to be worn by visitors. Damien Hirst sent a fax.

The idea for the show came about during Asprey's last visit to the occupied territories while working with Art School Palestine - founded by Asprey and curator and art critic Sacha Craddock to support Palestinian art.

Noting that Palestinians had no modern art museum, Asprey began planning an international exhibition in the occupied territories. But the danger of work being destroyed, along with the prohibitively high cost of insurance, meant he had to think of another way to get the art into the gallery.

He recalls the invitations: "We're not inviting you to travel, we're not inviting you to send any artwork. We'd like you to come up with an instruction that doesn't compromise the quality of the work, and allow us to recreate it in Palestine. Once it's done, it's painted over. Job done. It's very simple."

The list of participating artists is staggering: Martin Creed and Wolfgang Tillmans join legends such as Lawrence Weiner and Daniel Buren. "We weren't afraid to go for big names," Asprey says.

The show is sure to touch a few nerves. While Asprey admits that the concept is a contentious one, his initial invitation asked the artists not to be overtly political. "If you do that," he explains, "then people would be pressurised to make some sort of statement. I think the quality of art is so good precisely because people have not felt obliged to follow a political instinct."

Then, with few of the artists ever touching their final gallery pieces, the show raises questions about authenticity and authorship that have been dogging high-profile art since the days when Andy Warhol asked his assistants to urinate on his canvases for him.

Nathan Coley, one of the exhibition's featured artists, believes the bizarre format builds on a long history of similarly controversial experiments. "I think sometimes you need to focus on the idea and what you're actually going to generate, rather than form or material or production values. You don't need to steal the show and be dominating to have an impact. Sometimes the slightest interventions are the most potent."

Coley's body of work seems perfectly suited for the exhibition: his detailed and often surreal architectural models examine the relationship between individuals and the built environment. He is also no stranger to politically sensitive subjects: in 2003 he exhibited Lockerbie, an exact replica of the witness box in which two Libyans were tried for the 1998 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. "I think it's political both with a small 'p' and a large 'P'," he says of the exhibition, adding, with a distinct sense of mischief, "I guess I'm secretly hoping that it will be used and misused as people see fit."

Co-curator Pallister describes another crucial aspect of the show: trust. "The artists have to trust us that we will carry out their work in an appropriate way, and the people of Palestine have to trust us to make sure we've got all the information right."

Coley's piece, for example, is a page of instructions on how to recreate one of his earlier works - THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE - by drilling the words into the exterior wall of the gallery. He has no idea who will carry out his instructions, or how closely they will be followed. For Coley, it's an exciting prospect. "That's interesting, because there's a change of responsibility. People in Bethlehem - the people who know the place, and the audience - they are the custodians of the idea."

Coley's approach is adventurous, but for critics, that "change of responsibility" - and the passive involvement of many of the show's artists - hints at a rather superficial cause célèbre.

Asprey prefers to concentrate on the strength of the work rather than the artists' names. Still, he's not afraid to recognise the value of attaching some of the biggest names in the art world to the project. "When people in New York or LA are turning the pages of an art magazine, and they see there's a huge show in Palestine with 25 names that they recognise, it'll be an extraordinary shock. I expect even the advert to throw up a lot of dialogue and emotion."

But Asprey's focus remains on the show's Palestinian visitors, and for them, questions of authenticity and celebrity may prove to be redundant. "People in the West Bank don't know who Damien Hirst is," he says, "so in a way we're going without baggage."

As If By Magic runs at the Bethlehem Peace Centre until 6 October

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn