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Joy of Living
24th August 2017

The Joy of Living: Q&A with Max Fraser

The concept for the Joy of Living is nothing short of genius. Gather a group the world’s most talented artists, architects and designers, give them an open brief and three single sheets of coloured paper and auction off the results to raise funds for pioneering cancer charity Maggie’s.

The very first Joy of Living exhibition took place at Somerset House in 2011. Conceived by design journalist Max Fraser, the exhibition saw over 100 designers anonymously exhibit artworks formed from a single piece of A4 graph paper. The artworks were then sold, collectively raising more than £35,000 for the charity.

Six years later, the Joy of Living is back! Round two of the exhibition is bigger, more colourful and, with the introduction of an auction, Max has ambitions of raising an even greater sum of money for the charity. Gone is the single sheet of graph paper from 2011, this time around 150 participants have been indulged with three sheets of G.F Smith coloured paper.

Who could it be? Joy of Living

The 2017 Joy of Living exhibition will feature approximately 200 artworks crafted by an impressive line-up of artists, architects and designers. Participants include Jasper Morrison, Anthony Burrill, Ilse Crawford, John Pawson, Barber and Osgerby, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tom Dixon, Amanda Levete, Faye Toogood and Eley Kishimoto. The exhibition will be on show at One Poultry in London from 5 September until 10 September with all exhibits being available to buy through an online auction that will take place throughout the duration of the exhibition. As with the 2011 exhibition, the artist behind each artwork will be kept secret until the auction is over.

With the exhibition and online auction opening on 5 September, and the designs being unveiled last week, we caught up with Max to find out more about the show. In the below interview, Max discusses what’s new for 2017, the personal poignancy of raising funds for Maggie’s, and his gratitude for his ever patient porters.

How did the idea for Joy of Living come about?

My mother died of cancer in 2008. I wanted to do something to fight this brutal disease. I discovered Maggie’s and its philosophy of using great architecture and design in its centres to aid the wellbeing of cancer patients and their families. This chimed perfectly with me so I approached them and explained my idea to invite designers to create one-off artworks that we would sell to raise money. At the time, they were running a campaign called Joy of Living which seemed like a positive message to adopt. The designers, who were supplied with A4 graph paper as their medium, were asked to respond to the exhibition title in their artwork. The results were fabulously varied and we sold most pieces, raising over £35,000 for the charity.

The original exhibition took place in 2011, why does 2017 feel like the right time for a second iteration?

I did a second fundraiser for Maggie’s in 2012 and I can’t explain why there has been a five-year gap. Life just gets in the way I guess. It is a huge amount of work to organise such an event but this time I’ve teamed up with my friend Aynsley Munsie so we’re in it together - sadly her father died of cancer in 2014. And I just found out last week that my dad has been diagnosed with cancer, so you could say this is the perfect time to be doing it again.

You’ve selected different shades of G.F Smith paper for the exhibition. What informed your selection of colours?

I knew I wanted to work with the beautiful Colorplan papers from G.F Smith and the 12 colours we selected were chosen from across the spectrum and different from each other. 

For the original exhibition, participants were given plain graph paper. What difference will colour make?

Colour paper is inherently cheerful in contrast to the rigid grid structure of graph paper. We’re exhibiting them in a raw concrete space so the colours will really jump out at viewers.

Why Maggie’s? Is it a charity that is particularly important to you?

Maggie’s is involved in providing the emotional support to cancer patients and their families. They leave the medical treatment to the hospitals which are on the grounds that the centres are located. Maggie’s centres are domestic scale and designed by some of the leading architects in the world (Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, Steven Holl, Frank Gehry, Snohetta etc) as places that are warm, welcoming and pleasant to be in. This is such a welcome contrast to the bleak nature of hospitals. My work in the design industry is all about making our world a better place and this charity embodies that attitude.

Joy of Living

How much are you hoping to raise through the auction and how does that sum compare to 2011?

I’m hoping to raise £80,000 – £100,000 compared to £35,000 last time. Each Maggie’s centre (there are 20) costs £590,000 per year to run. I’m hoping one day my fundraising total for Maggie’s will reach that amount.

Why make the artworks anonymous? Wouldn’t pieces fetch greater sums if the designer was stated?

Yes probably. But I hate how names dictate the art industry. I want people to buy the piece that they love, regardless of name. The purchaser finds out once they’ve bought it but they don’t really care by that stage. Also, Maggie’s welcome everyone into their centres regardless of who they are – I suppose we’re mirroring their approach.

How did you go about selecting the designers to invite? Was it a case of asking as many designers as you thought would be willing, or was it more methodical?

I just go through my address book of those I’ve met over the years who I admire. They are mostly 3D designers with a few architects, graphic designers and artists thrown in. I’m asking for a donation of their talent and time so it helps to leverage personal relationships where possible for the maximum return of artworks. We’ll have approximately 200 pieces from about 150 designers.

Joy of Living exhibition

Is organising something like this a logistical nightmare? 150 designers is a huge number of people to organise – was there a lot of chasing involved or has everyone been fairly responsive?

Yes, it is but communication is kept to a minimum and as clear as possible. My dream of a project coordinator Amy Bicknell has mostly made it happen from this point of view. I’m so grateful to her. Oh and the porters where I live have been great in receiving so many odd-shaped yet very light packages!

There’s been a surge in design auctions in recent years (Örnsbergsauktionen, No Ordinary Love at SEEDS, 51 wire chairs, Moustache’s Favoris #1). What do you think is so compelling about a design auction? Why does design lend itself well to auction?

I can’t explain the surge but with this project, I know that the designers have enjoyed creating something without a really specific brief from a client. It has allowed them to open their minds a bit more in different directions. Also (and sadly) most people are touched by cancer in one way or another so they are enthusiastic for the cause. In principle, I think charitable auctions are a great forum for great work to be sold and for it to go to a cause, rather than bulge an individual’s pockets.

Have you made any revisions to the exhibition and auction format that was a direct result of your experience organising the event in 2011 (eg. did you leave something out that didn’t work so well in the original exhibition)?

Last time, the artworks were sold at a fixed price on a first-come, first-served basis and were probably underpriced on the whole. This time, as online auction technology has matured, we think we can raise more money by auctioning them. Other than that, not much has changed.

Do you have an eye on any of the artworks? Are you allowed to bid for them?

Myself, Aynsley and Amy are the only people who know who has created each artwork. I have lots of favourites and I will certainly bid but will be playing by the same rules as everyone else, I promise!

Book tickets here.

Joy of Living
The list of participating designers is below:

Ab Rogers
Adam Blencowe
Alan Dye
Alex Hellum
Alistair Hall
Amanda Levete
Amos Marchant
Ana-Maria Pasescu-Stewart
André Klauser and Ed Carpenter
Anna Murray and Grace Winteringham
Anthony Dickens
Ariane Prin
Azusa Murakami and Alex Groves
Barnaby Barford
Bethan Gray
Bethan Laura Wood
Brodie Neill
Camilla Barnard
Cecilie Maurud Barstad
Charles Trevelyan
Chris Wilkinson
Daljit Singh
Daniel Eatock
Danny Sangra
David Irwin
Dean Brown
Donna Wilson
Doug Hodgson
Ed Barber and Jay Osgerby
Ella Doran
Eva Kellenberger and Sebastian White
Faye Toogood
Fernando Laposse
Frith Kerr
Genevieve Bennett
Giles Miller
Gitta Gschwendtner
Hannah Dipper and Robin Farquhar
Hannah Martin
Hannah Plumb and James Russell
Helen Amy Murray
Helen Yardley
Ian McIntyre
Ineke Hans
Ismini Samanidou
Ivan Harbour
Jade Jagger
James Patmore
Jamie Anley and Astrid Zala
Jasleen Kaur
Jasper Morrison
John Pawson
John Tree
Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead
Jordan Söderberg Mills
Kia Utzon-Frank
Kim Thome
Laetitia de Allegri and Matteo Fogale
Laura Perryman
Lee Broom
Leonora Oppenheim
Liam Hopkins
Lily Jencks
Lucy Kurrein
Magnus Long
Mandi Keighran
Marcel Wanders
Marina Dragomirova and Iain Howlett
Marina Willer
Marjan van Aubel
Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto
Martin Brudnizki
Mathias Hahn
Matthew Raw
Max Lamb
Michael Marriott
Michael Wolfson
Nathan Philpott and Jemma Ooi
Neal Whittington
Nigel Coates
Nina Tolstrup
Oliver Staiano
Oscar Diaz
Pam West and Matt Edmonds
Patrik Fredrikson and Ian Stallard
Paul Cocksedge
Paul Finn
Peter and Cathy Wall
Peter Crawley
Peter Marigold
Phil Cuttance
Richard Ardagh
Rolf Sachs
Rosario Hurtado and Roberta Feo
Ross Lovegrove
Ryan Malone and Giles Massie-Taylor
Sam Bompas and Harry Parr
Sam Jacob
Samuel Wilkinson
Saša Štucin and Nicholas Gardner
Sebastian Bergne
Sebastian Conran
Sebastian Cox
Shin Azumi
Simon Pengelly
Stafford Schmool
Steven Holl
Stuart Haygarth
Tanya Kaprielian
Tej Chauhan
Terence Woodgate
Theo Williams
Tom Brooksbank and Allan Collins
Tom Dixon
Tom Robinson
Tomoko Azumi
Tony Brook
Tord Boontje
Torsten Neeland
Tracey Neuls
Voon Wong and Benson Saw, Ian Macready
Yasuyuki Sakurai and Risa Sano
Yunus Ascott and Eliza Higginbottom

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