Not all of them will end up in his collection, but the latest initiative from Charles Saatchi offers young art students a greater chance of success. The man who introduced the world to artists Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread and Sarah Lucas, and who is credited with changing the face of British art with his explosive Sensation exhibition in 1997, has now launched his latest venture, Stuart.
The Stuart (as in "student art") gallery, gives artists the opportunity to show their work in a virtual exhibition space from where they can be picked up by collectors. Such a facility has clearly been needed: since introducing a dedicated platform for art students, the Saatchi web-site has seen its hit-rate double to three million a day and, in its first week alone, Stuart attracted 600 submissions from around the world.
A non-profit-making site, where artists can sell their work without being charged commission, Stuart could be considered a logical extension of Charles Saatchi's long-term interest in student work. A subsection of Saatchi's website Your Gallery, which already hosts a free global exhibition space for 18,000 artists, Stuart has been described as a unique opportunity for graduates hoping to get their work recog-nised on a wider stage. In addition, the discussion board on the site enables artists to share ideas, inspirations and advice with each other.
"When I was a student we would never have dreamt of having something like this," says the artist Paula Rego. "It's brilliant for students to show their work and see what is going on with other students worldwide."
Grayson Perry, the winner of the 2003 Turner Prize, agrees. "It's innovative ideas like this which will bring on new waves and changes in art. This type of innovation will always produce new, exciting things."
And although the man famous for showcasing the YBAs (Young British Artists) has not yet bought anything from the site, he does insist that he views the work of every new student who signs up. "There are a number of really very interesting artists on Stuart that I have already passed on to dealers that I work closely with, both in the UK and in the States," says Saatchi.
So far, around a third of the students are from the UK, one third from America and one third from the rest of the world, from Turkey to Slovakia. Yet the Saatchi Gallery contacted only art galleries in London to kickstart the process. The surge of interest appears to stem from word of mouth.
Nevertheless, not everyone is convinced by the project. "Sometimes you come back from an art school visit, saying to anyone who will listen: you just wouldn't believe how terrible some of them are," says The Independent's art critic Tom Lubbock. "Now the world can see. The serious question is whether these sites will provide artists - good or bad - with a significant alternative, direct-sale marketplace, which bypasses the gallery system with its enormous percentages. That seems doubtful.
"Most rich art-collectors aren't as bold as Saatchi is himself - they'd be reluctant to buy on a whim out of the blue. But another possibility is the development of a very broad 'general public' art market. That would presumably mean artists devoting themselves to relatively cheap, home-sized and maybe reproducible artworks, rather than big, expensive, unique museum pieces. For ambitious artists that would be a big and perhaps intolerable reversal of priorities."
In the meantime, the site continues to grow apace. While he may not be directly responsible for creating the next generation of Young British Artists, Saatchi is certainly the driving force behind them. Is the next big thing already online? Time will tell.
Vicky Newman, 22
Fine Art, Falmouth College of Arts 'Shout' (2006)
"It is quite easy to feel 'safe' in a bubble of tutors and fellow students, and quite out of touch with the real world. …