Artist Michael Craig-Martin introduces Passports, the exhibition he curated with the British Council:

'Invited to curate this introductory exhibition, I was daunted by the number of works in the Collection (over 8,500), particularly in view of the limitation of space available. As well as paintings and sculptures, the Collection contains photographs, installations, films and videos, watercolours, drawings, and prints.

'Trying to gain an overview of the highlights of the Collection I was shown that every work carried what is referred to as its ‘Passport.’ These Passports contain not only the usual information on the work (artist, title, date, materials) but also its purchase date and price and a complete record of its exhibition history.

'Two things immediately struck me: first, how little had been paid for many of the works and second, how remarkably extensive were their exhibition histories.

'Looking across a range of dates of purchase and the prices paid, it became clear to me that the reason so many works had been purchased relatively inexpensively was because they were acquired early in the artist’s career, when such a purchase might be genuinely useful to the artist and before a hyper-active market in their work had been estab¬lished.

'The Council was not following the market, but anticipating it. Of course, we all know that the price of the artworks, even those by young artists, has risen very substantially over the past 50 or 60 years, and not every work was bought at a notably low price. But it is clear from the evidence that these works were purchased on the basis of expertise and conviction about their quality and importance - sophisticated and honourable collecting indeed.

'It is unusual to learn the original price of a work in a public collection, and when we do it is normally because the price is considered scandal¬ously high, not surprisingly low. It is seen as inappropriate or irrelevant, a superficial distraction from the true value of the work itself. Normally I would agree, but examining these Passports, it seemed to me that what they reveal is absolute proof of the value of the proper use of public money to support the arts. I thought others would find this information as interesting as I did.

'Lucian Freud’s Girl with Roses was purchased in 1948 for £157 10s. 0d; Patrick Caulfield’s View Inside a Cave in 1969 for £500; Anish Kapoor’s The Chant of Blue in 1983 for £3,000: Peter Doig’s Hill Houses in 1991 for £2,700; Damien Hirst’s Apotryptophanae in 1994 for £8,500.

'I had forgotten that the first works of mine to enter the Collection were four drawings purchased in 1973 from the Rowan Gallery for £153. I must have received 50% of this amount, i.e. £76.50. I can’t recall how I spent the money, but I do remember being very pleased that my work had entered one of the three important public collections of contemporary art in Britain, the others being the Tate and the Arts Council.

'The other revelation in the Passports is the exhibition history of each work. What normally happens to a work of art after it is purchased? In general only a small number of works are shown repeatedly in exhibition after exhibition. Most disappear into private collections and live quiet lives, only occasionally disturbed, perhaps for inclusion in a retrospec¬tive. Even those in public collections spend much of their lives in storage, only occasionally seeing the light of day on exhibition or on loan.

'By contrast, many works in the British Council Collection have had astonishingly extensive exhibition histories. For example Ben Nicholson’s 1935 White Relief has been shown in 63 exhibitions in 21 countries; Bridget Riley’s 1967 Cataract 3 in 49 exhibitions in 19 countries; Richard Deacon’s 1982 Boys and Girls (come out to play) in 41 exhibitions in 25 countries; even Roger Hiorns’s 2002 Discipline, purchased only in 2005, has already been shown in 13 exhibitions in 8 countries.

'My selection of works for this exhibition barely scratches the surface of the Collection. I have tried to give a sense of its range. For every work I felt able to include there were half a dozen I had to leave out, inevitably by artists (and friends) whose work I admire. This is a collection that contains hidden treasures, many of which I know will be included in subsequent exhibitions in this series.'