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

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Byline: Charles Saatchi

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 worth[pounds sterling]1,000 or [pounds sterling]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 sterling]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? …


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