'Charles Saatchi Buys Artworks like Imelda Marcos Bought Shoes'
Glancey, Jonathan, The Independent (London, England)
"If Charles keeps moving fast enough, he might just manage to keep death at bay. The zealous go-kart racing, the obsession with new movies, fast cars, new architecture and the work of wham-bam young artists. . . it all adds up. He's an obsessive. . ."
Bernard Jacobsen, the one-time Daily Mail journalist turned Cork Street art dealer, believes himself to be the polar opposite of his friend Charles Saatchi, Britain's biggest, most dedicated and most secretive collector of contemporary art. "We decided to go on a diet together when middle- age spread got us," says Jacobsen. "When the time came to start eating again, Charles had lost three stone; I'd put on a pound. That's about the size of it; you just can't stop Charles when he's got a bee in his bonnet, or a go-kart under his bum."
Saatchi races go-karts for the fun of it, but he likes to win. He is said to have spent pounds 50,000 on his karting hobby last year, which is what he paid for Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, which most of us know as a 14ft tiger shark in a tank filled with formaldehyde. In choosing to back the fishy, feisty and often funny art of Damien Hirst, Saatchi has picked a clear winner. In a remarkably short time, Hirst has become one of the most famous (or infamous) living artists, darling of the tabloids and nice little earner. Since catching Saatchi's thousands with his pickled shark, Hirst has moved from a council flat in Deptford to a chic pad in Chelsea, where his greatest fan and patron lives.
Not that Saatchi is keen to hang out with artists; he's not in the habit of inviting them round for drinks in his cool, white Modern house designed by cool, Modern London architects Munkenbeck & Marshall. Home is where his art is - or at least it houses a tiny part of his 1,000 or so artworks, divided between Chelsea, the whiter-than-white Saatchi Collection in St John's Wood (beautifully designed by the late Max Gordon) and the secure warehouses of Momart, the art storage experts. Saatchi likes to buy art (the latest, the punchiest, the whizziest), entire shows of the stuff at times, but he doesn't like to get too involved with those who produce it.
"He is overwhelmed by the urge to buy," says Brian Sewell, art critic of the Evening Standard, giggling. "His focus is so diffuse that he appears to have no eye at all. I certainly don't think he buys what he does for profit; most of what he buys is ridiculous. Collectors on the scale of Saatchi buy for other reasons; very few of them are sane. Look at Queen Christina of Sweden: mad as a hatter and a lesbian to boot. She bought vast paintings and then had them cut to size to fit her chambers."
Charles Saatchi's motivation remains unclear. What we do know is that he did not get where he is today by playing Mr Nice Guy. At the end of a lecture Maurice Saatchi (Charles's exuberant brother and business partner) gave to the Design and Art Directors' Association (D&AD) in London last year, he "revealed the untold secret behind the name Saatchi". It was an acronym, he told his cooing audience; it stands for "Simple And Arresting Truths Create High Impact". He added: "It's our name, our nature."
("Actually," says Brian Sewell, "It's an Arabic name for clockmaker.")
Charles Saatchi made his fortune from advertising. The impact the north London brothers created with advertising campaigns for the Health Education Council (the pregnant man ad), the Tory party ("Labour Isn't Working"), British Airways and Silk Cut was very similar to that created by Damien Hirst (pickled sheep), Marc Quinn (bust made from the artist's frozen blood) and the sticky young American artists currently on show at the Saatchi Collection.
"It's sound-bite art," says Bernard Jacobsen, "very close to images used in contemporary advertising. But then, the relationship between fine art …
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Publication information: Article title: 'Charles Saatchi Buys Artworks like Imelda Marcos Bought Shoes'. Contributors: Glancey, Jonathan - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: February 17, 1996. Page number: 7. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.