Norman, Geraldine, The Independent (London, England)
A TABLE for 10 at the dinner being given tomorrow night at Charles Saatchi's art gallery in St John's Wood, north London, costs pounds 1,500. You don't have to be a genius to realise that no one is paying that kind of money just to get a preview of the photography exhibition, "A Positive View", which the dinner is ostensibly celebrating, while at the same time raising money for two charities. The exhibition is open to the public, free, from Wednesday.
The 500 guests will be turning up to be seen by each other at a significant social event, organised by Lady Palumbo and Lady Rayne, two of Princess Diana's closest advisers, in "dear Charles's" gallery. Princess Diana is also the patron of both the charities. It is going to be a big social scene - but that should not be allowed to overshadow the exhibition itself.
The show, which is sponsored by Vogue, is billed as an overview of contemporary photography. It contains some 200 photographs, mainly taken over the last five years, about half of them in colour and several in very large format: they go up to 10ft or so. It cannot be described as a survey - the selection is too random and a bit over-Vogued - but the show is spectacular, unusual in presenting photography as "art" in an art gallery, and it includes some great prints.
It is essentially a charity auction which has turned into an exhibition. The showing at the Saatchi Gallery runs from 14-30 September. On 3 October, the photographs will be moved to Bond Street and go on exhibition at Sotheby's for three days; at 7.30pm on 5 October, roughly 150 will be auctioned. Charity auctions are notorious for providing the opportunity to buy good art cheap; the wealthy do-gooders who make up most of the audience are not generally connoisseurs.
The method of selecting the photographs was very odd. First, some 200 leading photographers were asked if they would contribute two prints to a charity auction. The organisers had not bargained for the generosity of the response; they ended up with 400 works from 14 countries. Then Sotheby's pointed out that you could not have more than 150 lots in a charity sale, otherwise it would go on too long and the patrons would get fed-up and leave. The donations were vetted and 250 rejected - which led some photographers to take offence.
Then it was decided that the exhibition needed some extra highlights. So Charles Saatchi agreed to lend some works by famous "artist" photographers from his own collection: Cindy Sherman, for instance, the American who dresses up and photographs herself in different roles; and Andres Serrano, who photographed a crucifix in a bottle of urine and caused a rumpus that reached right up to the US Senate. Photo pieces by David Hockney and Jeff Koons have been borrowed from commercial galleries and some older photographs are on loan from the Vogue archive, including the spectacular picture by John Deakin of a young Francis Bacon holding half a sheep's carcass in each hand.
The sale will be a major event. Sotheby's has cancelled its autumn photography auction so as not to overload the market. Lord Snowdon has given two great images: a study of the sculptor Eduard Paolozzi's hand made in 1988; and a 1992 picture of the enfant terrible of the art world, Damien Hirst, sitting naked in a fish tank (estimates pounds 800- pounds 1,600).
Another royal associate, Koo Stark, has contributed two 1990 nipple studies, The Scream and A Right Tit, which make up in sensation what they lack in artistic finesse ( pounds 500- pounds 1,000). Annie Leibovitz, currently one of the most fanatically admired of all celebrity photographers, has sent in a photograph of Bruce Springsteen at the wheel of his car at Asbury Park, New Jersey, in 1987 ( pounds 1,000- pounds 2,000).
Serious photography buffs will be more excited by Bill Brandt's two nude studies of 1952 and 1956 - both later prints, but signed ( pounds 1,000- pounds 2,000 and pounds 2,000- pounds 4,000 respectively); Sebastiao Salgado's famous view of a Brazilian gold mine, Serra Pelada, 1986 ( pounds 2,000- pounds 4,000); an Eve Arnold Marilyn ( pounds 1,600- pounds 3,000) and her celebrated study, Horse Training for the Militia, Inner Mongolia ( pounds 800- pounds 1,800); not to mention two great images by Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1896-1986) which date from 1908 and 1910 ( pounds 2,000- pounds 4,000). …