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
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'