Art Collector Saatchi Gives the Turner Prize a Run for Its Money ; He Can Make or Break an Artist by Buying or Selling Their Entire Oeuvre. Now the Multi-Millionaire Who Put Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin on the Map Plans to Outdo the Tate by Launching His Own Pounds 40,000 Prize for Contemporary Art, Reports James Morrison
Morrison, James, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Charles Saatchi, the multi-millionaire advertising mogul and doyen of the contemporary British art scene, is to launch his own version of the most infamous event in the art-world calendar, Tate Britain's Turner Prize.
In a move likely to antagonise the Tate and its director, Sir Nicholas Serota, Mr Saatchi is planning to award a pounds 40,000 prize to an outstanding UK artist each year - twice the sum lavished on the winner of the Turner.
The prize is expected to be unveiled officially in the spring at the launch of his most ambitious venture yet, a 40,000sq ft gallery designed to house his 3,000-piece collection of modern art. Situated barely half a mile from the Tate Modern along the south bank of the Thames, in County Hall, the former Greater London Council headquarters, it will showcase some of the most notorious works of recent times.
Highlights will include an opening retrospective for Damien Hirst, featuring Hymn, the 20ft anatomical doll he sold to Mr Saatchi for pounds 1m, and the "pickled" shark, sheep and cow that first made his name. Permanent fixtures will also include at least one of Tracey Emin's unmade beds and a theatre for performances by the Old Vic.
Mr Saatchi's decision to launch an alternative to the Turner, a prize he recently dismissed as "claptrap", will be seen as an act of extraordinary vanity by a man who more or less single-handedly launched Brit Art. His ability to spend huge sums acquiring works by obscure artists has catapulted relative unknowns to instant fame. Last year alone, he spent an estimated pounds 2m on new pieces - equivalent to the Tate's entire annual acquisition budget.
His attempt to upstage the Turner Prize will especially anger the Tate, which for some years has been struggling to retain its status as the primary custodian of contemporary British art. Unlike Mr Saatchi, who has the money to snap up works at auction on impulse, the gallery has neither the resources nor the remit to buy anything without consulting its trustees and raising donations.
As a result, Tate Modern remains relatively barren of work by many of the biggest names in contemporary art, while Mr Saatchi has acquired almost the entire oeuvres of "YBAs" (Young British Artists) such as the Chapman brothers and Jenny Saville. Tracey Emin, whose Turner Prize-shortlisted My Bed was bought by Saatchi for pounds 150,000 three years ago, is said to be ambivalent about his patronage because of his work on the Tory campaigns that helped to keep Labour out of power throughout the 1980s. …