Gifted at Josh Lilley Gallery

The artists on a gallery roster are invited to think of themselves as colleagues and take part in what we know as secret Santa. Instead of bottles of wine, DVDs and chocolates, they must give artworks.

Secret Santa operates as a closed, rational system for regulating generosity at work. It brings teams together. It ensures no one is especially favoured or left out. Those are the pros.

The cons are the same as any occasion of gift giving in our society. Calculation threatens the premise of altruism. It may be impossible not to expect something in return.

Rather than a £10 limit, each of the artworks represents hours of professional time. So the shadow of calculation hangs over the workmanship, while the creative impulse escapes the circuit of trade.

One condition for taking part is that each artist took possession of his or her gift and then made some further art with it. And the resulting hybrid works are now for sale.

But you cannot put a price on inspiration, and that makes art the perfect gift. There is something generous about making it, buying it, even selling it, as this seasonal show demonstrates.

Gifted can be seen at Josh Lilley Gallery, London, until January 7 2011. For more details visit gallery website.

The show is curated by art lecturer and writer Ben Street. Follow him on Twitter: @thebenstreet.

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