27 Jul, 2009
PR stunt or great way to mend a broken heart?
Posted by: admin In: Guardian
After his girlfriend left him, Jasper Joffe thought it was time to make a change
The end of a five-year relationship would send most men ricocheting miserably, and predictably, between pub, friends and family. But not Jasper Joffe.
Having spent last Christmas shuffling around the “ground zero” of his former life after parting company with both his girlfriend and his gallery, the artist decided to rid himself of his past and all his possessions.
“It was a kind of personal and professional crisis, but it was very liberating,” he says. “I found that all the fixed things in my life weren’t as important as I thought they were.”
Next week, Joffe will sell off everything he owns – apart from the clothes on his back, his keys, his phone and his wallet – in a cathartic auction-cum-exhibition called The Sale of a Lifetime.
Although the sale will include items such as the handmade shoes he bought in his first year at Oxford, a signed copy of Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy and a stainless steel food mixer, the artist insists his motivation is an ancient and spiritual one.
Hitting 33, says Joffe, got him thinking about all the things another man who died at that same age had done in his short, if rather more influential life.
“It’s a bit like a mid-life crisis; it’s a chance to be reborn as someone else,” he says. “It’s a metaphor. Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Give up everything and follow me.’ I’m doing that, but in a secular way.
Secular though the exercise may be, there is a distinctly religious, not to say mammonist, numerology at work throughout the auction – there are 33 different lots, each being offered for sale at £3,333. Among them are 800 books, a variety of Lacoste polo shirts and a nice piece of South African amethyst.
The public, the PR blurb whispers darkly, “will have the opportunity to browse through the artist’s entire oeuvre, and will be invited to voyeuristically investigate parts of his private and more intimate life, from the books he reads, to the things he uses in his daily life, including his personal keepsakes and collections”.
Joffe, unsurprisingly, has a good deal of previous when it comes to making statements. Ten years ago, he painted 24 paintings in 24 hours in an attempt “to question the relationship between time and artistic integrity”.
Eight years later, he founded the Free Art Fair, a week-long event at the end of which all the artworks are given away. In 2008, he received the modern artistic equivalent of a blooding when Charles Saatchi bought his pastel-hued portrait of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS.
“There’s no artist on earth other than Jasper Joffe who would have painted Himmler this way, using these brush strokes and candy colours,” the collector remarked at the time.
Joffe, however, is not the first person to sell their past and its accumulated clutter. In 2002, the US artist John Freyer auctioned everything he owned – including, intriguingly, his sideburns – for $6000 on eBay.
Precedent or no precedent, Joffe is determined to sacrifice everything in the name of art – even if it means bidding farewell to Jocko, the faithful Steiff monkey who has stood steadfast by his side for 25 years.
“I wanted to take something I had strong feelings about and turn it into a public object for people to react to,” he says. “I’m taking a very painful part of my life and turning it into something public. It’s very cathartic and it’s public therapy, but it’s not going: ‘Pity me!’”
Some however, do feel a little sorry for Joffe. “My friends and my dad have said they’d like to buy everything and give it back to me, but I don’t think they’ll be able to afford it. Ideally I’d like someone to buy everything so that everything I’ve done will be in one place for posterity.”
He does admit, though, that the idea of someone rolling up and buying his entire life from him is a touch creepy.
“It depends on who it is. I wouldn’t be too happy if it was a psychotic ex-girlfriend.” Not, he adds swiftly, that any of his former loves fall into that category.
Despite shrugging off suggestions that he is looking for sympathy by discarding the physical footnotes to his life – the love letters, the school reports and the photo albums – and insisting it is all an artistic statement, his true intentions are perhaps more human and more admirable for it.
Deep down, there still lurks the faint hope of a reconciliation with Rose, the fellow artist who left him last year.
“She’s quite indifferent about it at the moment, but I’m hoping that when she sees it she’ll believe it,” says Joffe. “I hope she’ll look in and see it all and say: “He really has changed.”
He pauses. “But on the other hand she might see it as just more evidence of my relentless egotism.”
• The Sale of a Lifetime is at the Idea Generation gallery, www.ideageneration.co.uk from 29 July to 2 August
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