Confessions of an Art Collector ; Damien Hirst Has Lost His Touch and Nicholas Serota Is a Hero, Says the Famously Secretive Charles Saatchi in a Revealing New Book in Which He Answers His Critics
Saatchi, Charles, The Evening Standard (London, England)
Why has Damien Hirst lost his inspiration?
He is a deeply gifted artist, a genius among us, but he's had a bad run of shows over the past few years. All great artists have an off patch, and he's having his. Usually when that happens, artists try too hard and the results look effortful and overblown. But I'm sure his next show will be a winner.
What was your first break in advertising?
After being rejected for a copy test by J Walter Thompson, Young & Rubicam, Ogilvy & Mather, and failing at interviews, or to even get an interview at every other agency I could think of, I managed to wriggle my way into an appointment to see Jack Stanley, the creative director of Benton & Bowles. God knows why he agreed to see me, or what he saw in this gormless youth sat in front of him, but he was American, noted that I seemed mad about all things American and knew a little about American ads, and could start immediately. Literally immediately, because he promptly walked me down a corridor, told me he had hired another young trainee last week, and I was to work with him. Luckily for me the trainee was John Hegarty, and we hit it off, and even better he was very talented and I would look good bathed in his afterglow.
How do you know if something is worthPounds 1,000 or Pounds 10,000 if it is by an unknown artist?
You could ask 99 per cent of people why one of these recent paintings sold for Pounds 3,500 and the other for $433,600. They wouldn't know. You could ask 99 per cent of people in the art world the same question, and they wouldn't know either. Of course, they would know that the painting on the left is by John Currin, much respected American artist, in all the right museums and top collections, even shown at the superb Saatchi Gallery in 1997 (his work was of course ignored or derided by most of the eagle-eyed art critics at the time, though they all learned to admire him greatly when it became fashionable to do so a few years later. Not that I'm chippy or anything). The other painter, Richard Moon, is British and largely unknown, whose work I saw at his Royal Academy School degree show. If The Fates had given Moon the right contacts, got him into the right gallery, had them place his work in the right collections and shows, then switched him to the world's most powerful dealer to launch him to superstardom, as the Fates did with Currin, the sales figures might be reversed. Now I'm not saying that Currin isn't an outstanding artist. He clearly deserves all his success, and is probably an infinitely more interesting painter than Moon. But believe me, talent alone is no guarantee of success, or explanation as to why some mediocre artists become burningly popular for a while, whilst better artists languish waiting for a call that never comes.
Which art dealers do you like? Which ones don't you like?
Leo Castelli was the nicest and brightest of contemporary dealers, an elegant and urbane gent who discovered Johns, Rauschenberg and Warhol and gave many artists their first break. He was very kind to me when I was just a soppy art groupie, helped me get many great works over the years, and his enthusiasm inspired me to start my first gallery at Boundary Road. I adore Larry Gagosian, but I always hear the theme music from Jaws playing in my head as he approaches. He is clearly the most successful art dealer of the last couple of decades and his beautiful and wellinstalled shows have finally earned him the respect of a grudging art world. In fact, the list of dealers I like is quite lengthy - they are helpful and try to make sure I get the work I want. The list of dealers I dislike is also quite lengthy. Art attracts about the same percentage of horrible people as any business full of big money and bigger egos.
Do you think art fairs are a good thing? Are they good for artists? Collectors? Dealers?
I don't go to the Basel Art Fair any more, which I used to enjoy greatly. Now I can no longer escape the feeling that the booths in the Basel Art Fair, so full of glossy art, will be full again for the next fair in their calendar with shiny agricultural implements in the Basel Farmers' Fair, or in the fair after that with medical supplies in the Basel Pharmacists' Fair. It just made me feel a little sheepish about being an art collector. But I've always believed that it is important for artists never to be allowed near an art fair for fear that the disillusionment with being part of a meat market would traumatise them into abandoning their brushes.
What was your most memorable studio visit?
I went to Julian Schnabel's studio in 1978 when he had just started working in New York and just before he had discovered the joys of broken crockery. He was magnificent in the certainty of his own genius, a complete belief that he was the natural and only worthy successor to Picasso. I found him so winning and liked his paintings enough to find this not as toe-curling an experience as it sounds. He then went on to produce five years of quite brilliant paintings that the art world largely derided. These works will look like an extraordinary achievement if brought together to hang in a celebratory show. Let's hope some bigtime museum in New York doesn't wait for Schnabel to die before it decides the moment is right.
I'd happily pay good money to see the charred remains of your unfortunate warehouse on display in your gallery. Have you any plans in this regard?
I assure you that the art inside the warehouse was more fun to look at than the charred remains. But there's always a fire somewhere if you like looking at burnt-out buildings.
Did you personally burn, or did you contract with a professional arsonist to burn the warehouse filled with your art?
Are the National Gallery and the Tate too conservative? If you had to choose would you be happier to see Tate Modern or tate Britain burned down?
I spend much of my life in the National Gallery and the Tate, so excuse me if I don't take your question too seriously.
Are dealers artificially inflating prices -- for example, Jay Jopling at Beautiful inside My Head Forever?
How do you artificially inflate prices?
People either want to buy it or they don't.
How would you assess the tate's performance as a museum of contemporary art?
Obviously the Tate Modern is a stupendous gift to Britain and Nicholas Serota is my hero to have pulled it off so masterfully. I like some of the exhibitions at the Tate, but many are disappointing. The curators should visit more studios and grassroots shows. They evidently lack an adventurous curatorial ambition. And as for having outside curators called in to pick work at the Frieze art fair for the Tate collection... or to select the Triennial Tate survey of new contemporary art... It isn't enough to rely on the latest Turbine Hall installation and the Turner Prize to generate interest.
The Tate seems sadly disengaged from the young British art community. It ought to have reflected the energy and diversity of British art over the last years in both its exhibitions and collecting policy. Puzzlingly, museums in Europe and the US are far more interested in examining Britain's recent artistic achievements.
You famously created the slogan "Labour isn't Working". Were you a Tory? Are you a Tory?
I once also threw myself into the Health Department's anti- smoking campaign, visited emphysema wards, studied pictures of cancerous lungs, and came up with the grisliest copy I could - puffing away happily as I wrote. How sweet of you to think that advertising copy is written from the heart.
When you first started collecting, was it just to decorate your home?
Yes and no. I had a few bits and pieces and hung them on the walls, but once you have bought something that doesn't fit in your home, and has to be stored in an art depot, you're officially an art collector.
You don't go to openings or parties and rarely give interviews. Why is a man with such a flair for publicity so reclusive?
I'm just a cocktail party dud, I'm afraid, and am lost in admiration for friends who are at ease walking into a roomful of people, and chatting happily as they work the room. I would do more interviews but I think I am too sensitive (definition: vain and touchy).
After your death, would you like to see the core of your collection kept together and remain on public view?
I don't buy art in order to leave a mark or to be remembered; clutching at immortality is of zero interest to anyone sane. I did offer my collection to Nicholas Serota at the Tate in . This was about the time I was struggling with the problems at County Hall - both the alarming behaviour of the Japanese landlords and my failure to get a grip on how to use the space well. I remembered that at the time Tate Modern opened, Nick had told me that there were new extensions planned that would add half again to the gallery capacity. But by the time I offered the collection to Nick, the Ta teal ready had commitments for the extension. So I lost my chance for a tastefully engraved plaque and a -gun salute. And now the mood has passed, and I'm happy not to have to visit Tate Modern, or its storage depot, to look at my art.
What's the point of art?
To stop our eyeballs going into meltdown from all the rubbish TV and films we happily look at the rest of the time.
Extracted from My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic: Everything You Need to Know About Art, Ads, Life, God and Other Mysteries and Weren't Afraid to Ask by Charles Saatchi, published on September, (c) Phaidon Press .
It wasn't terrifically amusing the first time dull people came up with this. Now it's the 100th time.
If you can't tell a good Picasso from a weak one or a good Hirst from a lazy one, your collecting days are going to provide you limited satisfaction. That is, after all the whole pleasure of choosing your art. The key is to have very wobbly taste, like me, so that although I know the Picasso on the left is a beauty, a real jewel that would grace any mantelpiece, I have an equally soft spot for the bizarre but so effortless and confident picture on the right.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Confessions of an Art Collector ; Damien Hirst Has Lost His Touch and Nicholas Serota Is a Hero, Says the Famously Secretive Charles Saatchi in a Revealing New Book in Which He Answers His Critics. Contributors: Saatchi, Charles - Author. Newspaper title: The Evening Standard (London, England). Publication date: September 1, 2009. Page number: 18. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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