WHEN a mystery collector began buying up entire exhibitions even before they opened last year, it seemed reminiscent of Charles Saatchi at his most expansive.
The London art world was rife with speculation, but it soon emerged that the "new" buyer on the scene was David Roberts, 51, a millionaire commercial property developer. He had, in fact, been making serious acquisitions for at least five years before making headlines.
And with 2,000 works in stock, too many for display in the family home he shares with his wife, Philippa, and their six children in Ascot, he has now decided to open a gallery to share his work with the public.
The official launch of One One One on Great Titchfield Street in Fitzrovia took place earlier this month. But even during the construction period, Roberts realised it would be too small. "There's a piece by Mona Hatoum I would like to have shown but we physically couldn't get it in." So, thinking bigger, he has snapped up a Pounds 4 million, 12,000 sq ft warehouse in Camden which he is to spend at least a year transforming into a gallery and base for his new philanthropic David Roberts Arts Foundation, to benefit curators and artists. "The warehouse is a wreck at the moment," he says. "But it's a long, narrow building, perfect for a gallery." While Saatchi was almost alone in his trawl of graduate shows and East End galleries in the early years of his collecting, Roberts is now one of an estimated 500 serious collectors in the UK, a growing band who contributed to the record success of Frieze and its attendant events last week. But in the world of the new art collector, buying just isn't enough. Having your own gallery is now de rigueur.
Roberts's Camden site lies a mile south of where similarly passionate collectors Anita and Poju Zabludowicz have just opened their own gallery, 176, in Chalk Farm. Frank Cohen, dubbed the Saatchi of the North, opened one in Wolverhampton last year, the singer George Michael and his partner Kenny Goss have a new foundation in Dallas, Texas, and even Saatchi's ex-wife Kay has opened her own salon to showcase emerging artists.
For David Roberts, the driving force in going public was space. Visiting the offices of his company, Edinburgh House, you begin to see why. A Damien Hirst dagger through a heart is in a glass case on the desk, there are three skull sculptures on the window ledge and works by Grayson Perry, Peter Howson and Craigie Aitchison cover all the walls.
His home is equally over-stuffed with purchases and he has a storeroom packed almost to bursting in Park Royal. "And it did seem a bit criminal that things go into a dark warehouse and don't come out again. …