David Walliams and Batia Ofer

LONDON — London’s Frieze art fair got underway at the Royal Horticultural Halls with the Art of Wishes gala hosted by uber collector Batia Ofer, where notable figures from the art world gathered beneath a mesmerizing, perpetually moving botanical projection by Jennifer Steinkamp.

British comedian David Walliams hosted the second edition of the event (the first was held in 2017), and set the tone for the evening with his self-effacing gags.

“They say you only ever host the Art of Wishes gala twice in your career: once on your way up and once on your way down. Well, it’s great to be back,” said Walliams, introducing the evening with a wryly raised eyebrow.

Ofer had put her well-established relationships with artists and international gallerists to work in amassing an impressive lineup of artwork and unique experiences to be auctioned in aid of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants life-changing wishes for children suffering from critical illnesses.

“There’s definitely a connection between body and soul,” said Ofer, who founded the event in 2017, adding that she developed hypothyroidism following her sister’s death 12 years ago, an event that lead to her involvement with the charity.

“Granting a wish can actually improve a child’s medical prognosis,” she said. “Some oncologists who have seen the power of ‘the Wish’ will now include it as part of their medical treatment, telling the Make-A-Wish people exactly when is the right moment to come in and meet the child and give them the hope and optimism they so much need.”

Ofer interpreted the evening’s floral dress code in an Alexander McQueen two-piece ensemble that she first wore to her niece’s bat mitzvah three years ago — refreshing proof of temperance among those with billions in the bank.

She was joined by art-world titans like Harry Blain, Henry Highley and Nicolai Frahm; artists Annie Morris, Idris Khan and Suzy Murphy; as well as Mary McCartney, Princess and Prince Von Liechtenstein, Hong Kong-based presenter Amanda Shang (in London to film a new television travel series), jazz singer Natalie Rushdie, and event maestra Fiona Leahy.

Former director of Contemporary Istanbul Kamiar Maleki, the man responsible for the Turkish fair’s rapid ascension up the global art fair rankings, politely fielded several inquiries as to his next move and told WWD that he hopes to announce his next projects soon.

One of the most hotly anticipated pieces in the live auction, which was conducted by charismatic art powerhouse Simon De Pury, was “Illusion Arrows And Flower,” a LED holographic effect monitor 
by Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh, donated by the Gagosian gallery.

“You may recall that less than a year ago Murakami and Abloh had a show at Gagosian on Davies Street, with endless queues going right down from Davies Street to Berkeley Square with people desperate to get in to see the show,” De Pury reminded the guests. “Now, of course, the best work was not on display. They kept that for Batia Ofer so that it could be sold tonight.”

The evening is estimated to have raised over 1.5 million pounds for the charity, the human worth of which was underscored by a touching short film that moistened many an eye with its depiction of Make-A-Wish’s mission to grant one terminally ill child’s wish for a rare gold Ring Pop Puppy toy to complete her collection. To her credit, Ofer did issue a prefatory warning about the film’s emotional kick.

With an influx to London of so many deep-pocketed patrons, Ofer was not alone in thinking it’s a good time to be encouraging philanthropy among those high net-worth individuals: Later in the week Natalia Vodianova will host a pop-up version of the Fabulous Fund Fair, traditionally held in London during the autumn/winter shows in February to raise money to help children with special needs. The invitation stated a “fairies and elves” dress code and promised an “evening of enchanting magical performances” at the rather unmagical-sounding Brewer Street Car Park.

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