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Bono and Hirst head art sale to fight Aids

An extraordinary array of contemporary art will go under the hammer next week for Red, the brand created by U2 star and activist Bono, to raise money to combat the Aids epidemic in Africa.

The auction, on February 14, is the first of its kind and features mainly new works donated by more than 60 artists, including Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin and Anthony Gormley. At a conservative estimate, it could raise $28-million in a few hours of bidding.

The event has been organised by Bono and Damien Hirst, who has contributed seven pieces, including one of his signature medicine cabinets full of pills, entitled Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way. That work alone carries a cautious reserve price of $6-million. Last year, a similar piece by Hirst, Lullaby Spring, sold for almost $20-million at Sotheby’s in London.

”We began by aiming to make $20-million,” said Hirst, over the phone, from his house in Mexico, ”so anything over that will be a bonus.”

Bono first discussed the idea with Hirst two years ago while they were holidaying together in the south of France. ”Basically, he took me out on a boat, got me very drunk and asked me to do it,” said Hirst. ”It has taken two years, but now we’ve got there.”

Hirst began by sending handwritten letters to about 50 artists, asking them to donate a work. ”I thought the personal touch would make all the difference,” he said. ”It was an exercise in the fine art of guilt-tripping.”

He received ”about 20 refusals, some for good reasons, some from artists who just didn’t want to do it”. He won’t be drawn on the refuseniks.

Many artists responded by making a work specifically for the auction on two suggested themes, Red and Love. Emin has made a red neon sign with the words ”I promise to love you” inside a heart; Marc Quinn has donated Red Sphinx, a sculpture of a bikini-clad Kate Moss in a provocative yoga pose; and graffiti artist Banksy has given three works, including Keep It Spotless, in which he has ”defaced” a spot painting by Hirst.

”It’s not work from the back of the cupboard that’s been dragged out and dusted down for charity,” said Hirst. ”The response has been pretty damn impressive across the board.” He has given everyone who contributed a limited-edition print of one of his works.

Unsurprisingly, the dominant colour in the catalogue of more than 72 works is red, the most emblematic work Hirst’s painting All You Need Is Love, a huge love heart encrusted with butterflies on gloss paint, which is priced at $1,5-million.

Since the catalogue was printed, several other artists have come on board, including Julian Schnabel, who has painted a portrait of the late Benazir Bhutto. ”I asked him what it was about,” said Bono, ”and he said, ‘Untimely death.”’

The Red art show will go on display at the Gagosian Gallery in New York on Monday. According to Hirst, neither Gagosian nor Sotheby’s will receive any money other than administration costs. Money raised will go to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s anti-Aids programmes in Africa.

”There is lot of pre-sale expectation,” says Cheyenne Westphal, head of contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s. ”It is essentially a charity auction, but with one big difference — all the work comes direct from the artists, not from private collections, and much of it has been made specifically for the event.”

On Valentine’s night, Hirst will be in New York, ”holed up in a bar around the corner from Sotheby’s”. Bono plans to be there when the bidding starts.

”I won’t be wielding the hammer,” he said, ”but I’ll be in the room willing them on.” He added: ”This is a unique event, an unholy mix of commerce and activism, culture and politics. It’s also a way of keeping the world interested.” — Â

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