I recently wrote an article about two installations by the young artist Nina Saunders which had featured prominently in the annual sculpture exhibition in the grounds of Jesus College, Cambridge. Saunders specialises in heavily pregnant, lavishly upholstered arm chairs - deceptively comfortable to the eye, impossible to sit in. How, I asked her, had she come to be selected for an event whose leading lights were world-famous veteran sculptors such as Richard Long, Anthony Gormley and Eduardo Paolozzi? She answered without hesitation: Charles Saatchi had bought seven of her pieces to add to his collection.
In practical terms this had enabled Nina Saunders to carry on producing new work (the cost of manufacturing each of her upholstered pieces is very high). But more importantly, the golden seal of Saatchi approval had also established her name on the "Young British Art" circuit that now dominates the contemporary art world.
Young artists such as Nina Saunders, or Turner Prize nominees Fiona Rae and Gary Hume - a show of whose work opens at the Saatchi Gallery next week don't have any trouble acknowledging that the private collector who spends lavishly on new art is, in fact, shaping the contemporary artistic landscape.
By keeping the artist in pocket, loaning his or her work to the national galleries - or, in the case of Charles Saatchi, displaying it on the walls of his own museum - these buyers may also be defining the experience and taste of the gallery-going public. Saunders and her peers …