Charles Saatchi: the hideousness of the art world
Even a show-off like me finds this new, super-rich art-buying crowd vulgar and depressingly shallow
guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 December 2011 23.11 GMT
Being an art buyer these days is comprehensively and indisputably vulgar. It is the sport of the Eurotrashy, Hedge-fundy, Hamptonites; of trendy oligarchs and oiligarchs; and of art dealers with masturbatory levels of self-regard. They were found nestling together in their super yachts in Venice for this year's spectacular art biennale. Venice is now firmly on the calendar of this new art world, alongside St Barts at Christmas and St Tropez in August, in a giddy round of glamour-filled socialising, from one swanky party to another.
Artistic credentials are au courant in the important business of being seen as cultured, elegant and, of course, stupendously rich.
Do any of these people actually enjoy looking at art? Or do they simply enjoy having easily recognised, big-brand name pictures, bought ostentatiously in auction rooms at eye-catching prices, to decorate their several homes, floating and otherwise, in an instant demonstration of drop-dead coolth and wealth. Their pleasure is to be found in having their lovely friends measuring the weight of their baubles, and being awestruck.
It is no surprise, then, that the success of the uber art dealers is based upon the mystical power that art now holds over the super-rich. The new collectors, some of whom have become billionaires many times over through their business nous, are reduced to jibbering gratitude by their art dealer or art adviser, who can help them appear refined, tasteful and hip, surrounded by their achingly cool masterpieces.
Not so long ago, I believed that anything that helped broaden interest in current art was to be welcomed; that only an elitist snob would want art to be confined to a worthy group of aficionados. But even a self-serving narcissistic showoff like me finds this new art world too toe-curling for comfort. In the fervour of peacock excess, it's not even considered necessary to waste one's time looking at the works on display. At the world's mega-art blowouts, it's only the pictures that end up as wallflowers.
I don't know very many people in the art world, only socialise with the few I like, and have little time to gnaw my nails with anxiety about any criticism I hear about.
If I stop being on good behaviour for a moment, my dark little secret is that I don't actually believe many people in the art world have much feeling for art and simply cannot tell a good artist from a weak one, until the artist has enjoyed the validation of others a received pronunciation. For professional curators, selecting specific paintings for an exhibition is a daunting prospect, far too revealing a demonstration of their lack of what we in the trade call "an eye". They prefer to exhibit videos, and those incomprehensible post-conceptual installations and photo-text panels, for the approval of their equally insecure and myopic peers. This "conceptualised" work has been regurgitated remorselessly since the 1960s, over and over and over again.
Few people in contemporary art demonstrate much curiosity. The majority spend their days blathering on, rather than trying to work out why one artist is more interesting than another, or why one picture works and another doesn't.
Art critics mainly see the shows they are assigned to cover by their editors, and have limited interest in looking at much else. Art dealers very rarely see the exhibitions at other dealers' galleries. I've heard that almost all the people crowding around the big art openings barely look at the work on display and are just there to hobnob. Nothing wrong with that, except that none of them ever come back to look at the art but they will tell everyone, and actually believe, that they have seen the exhibition.
Please don't read my pompous views above as referring to the great majority of gallery shows, where dealers display art they hope someone will want to buy for their home, and new collectors are born every week. This aspect of the art world fills me with pleasure, whether I love all the art or not.
I am regularly asked if I would buy art if there was no money in it for me. There is no money in it for me. Any profit I make selling art goes back into buying more art. Nice for me, because I can go on finding lots of new work to show off. Nice for those in the art world who view this approach as testimony to my venality, shallowness, malevolence.
And it's understandable that every time you make an artist happy by selecting their work, you create 100 people that you've offended the artists you didn't select.
I take comfort that our shows have received disobliging reviews since our opening exhibition of Warhol, Judd, Twombly and Marden in 1985. I still hold that it would be a black day when everybody likes a show we produce. It would be a pedestrian affair, art establishment compliant, and I would finally know the game was up.
Harvested in 2011 from the url: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/02/saatchi-hideousness-art-world for "A Collection of Essays on Art" by Michael B. Chang http://www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/on_art.html#_references
Saatchi's scathing portrait of the art world: 'Vulgar, Eurotrashy, masturbatory'
Leading British collector launches surprise attack saying buyers and dealers 'can't tell good artists from bad'
Mark Brown, arts correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 December 2011 23.10 GMT
Charles Saatchi, the most important British art collector of his generation, has launched an incendiary attack on the buyers, dealers and curators who populate the contemporary art world and concluded that many of them have little feeling for art and cannot tell a good artist from a bad one.
Writing in today's Guardian, Saatchi paints a scathing picture of the contemporary art world and says that being a buyer these days "is comprehensively and indisputably vulgar".
He says: "It is the sport of the Eurotrashy, hedgefundy, Hamptonites; of trendy oligarchs and oiligarchs; and of art dealers with masturbatory levels of self-regard." Saatchi described the Venice Biennale, scene of the world's biggest contemporary art jamboree, as a place where these people circulate "in a giddy round of glamour-filled socialising, from one swanky party to another".
"Do any of these people actually enjoy looking at art?" asks Saatchi. "Do they simply enjoy having easily recognised big-brand-name pictures, bought ostentatiously in auction rooms at eye-catching prices, to decorate their several homes, floating and otherwise, in an instant demonstration of drop-dead coolth and wealth? Their pleasure is to be found in having their lovely friends measuring the weight of their baubles, and being awestruck."
His comments will unquestionably cause waves in a world in which Saatchi has taken a pivotal role.
For some he is the less famous husband of Nigella Lawson but for the art world he is of immense importance. For 30 years he has been a voracious buyer of new art and was instrumental in the success of the Young British Artists movement, buying up the best of the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin and exhibiting it at the groundbreaking Sensation show at the Royal Academy in 1997.
But Saatchi says he finds the new art world toe-curling. "My little dark secret is that I don't actually believe many people in the art world have much feeling for art and cannot tell a good artist from a weak one, until the artist has enjoyed the validation of others.
"Few people in contemporary art demonstrate much curiosity, and spend their days blathering on, rather than trying to work out why one artist is more interesting than another."
Many will be surprised at the ferocity of his opinions. The Turner-nominated artist Louise Wilson half of the Wilson twins said she did not recognise his characterisation of collectors. "Maybe Charles is upset because he is not longer the chief proponent of the vulgarity," she said. "There are more collectors out there as opposed to the late 80s and 90s when there was just one which is a good thing."
But she added: "Many artists and art works have now definitely become a brand in a sense and some people may well go 'I'll have a Koons and a Gucci.' You can see that happening in certain contexts so in a way he does raise some interesting observations."
The curator Norman Rosenthal said it was impossible to generalise.
"It is very difficult to make a good exhibition," he said, "and the real problem is the art world has become so huge. When Charles and I were younger and doing the world of art it used to be much easier to sort it all out."
Rosenthal said Saatchi had put on extremely good shows but also shows that were not so good "and I speak as a dear friend of Charles."
Rosenthal was speaking from Miami where most of the people Saatchi is talking about have gathered for the latest fair on the contemporary art calendar. Rosenthal admitted that if 95% of the art there were destroyed then it would be no great loss.
What effect Saatchi's intervention will have on a buoyant contemporary art market remains to be seen but Sarah Thornton, the author of Seven Days in the Art World, predicted it would change little.
"This is so disingenuous of Charles Saatchi because he is selling art to these people and he is their role model. I find it shocking that he would come out and say this because his gallery has become a showroom for upcoming auction lots."
Thornton said Saatchi had made many millions selling on much of his collection. "He is feeding the people he is condemning." She put his comments down to "misanthropy".
Saatchi has had a London gallery for contemporary art since 1985 in different locations including St John's Wood, County Hall and since 2008 the former Duke of York's HQ in Chelsea.
According to the Art Newspaper's survey, in 2009 and 2010 the most visited UK show was Van Gogh at the Royal Academy followed by five shows at the Saatchi.
In 2010, Saatchi said he wanted to leave the gallery and part of his collection to the nation. A spokeswoman said negotiations to make that happen were continuing.
Expert view: Saatchi's Robert Hughes moment
The first thing to be recognised about Charles Saatchi's Swiftian explosion of rage against the art world is that he is uniquely qualified to say it. The second is that broadly speaking, he is right.
Saatchi is so synonymous with contemporary art that some readers may be baffled by his anger at the current state of it. Surely he is Mr Modern Art? Absolutely, but Saatchi has always been a collector who took risks for artists he loves. His championing of Damien Hirst two decades ago was not an attempt to follow fashion but a genuine act of enthusiasm for an artist widely attacked by critics (then as now) and mocked by the tabloids: he was right.
For me, the moment I first saw Hirst's shark seemingly swim through green formaldehyde at the Saatchi Gallery was when I knew the art of my time had teeth.
Saatchi's brand of provocative art collecting, daring the public to like what he likes, made him the natural patron of artists likesuch as Hirst and Sarah Lucas who, in the punk tradition, did not care what the public wanted and grew great on irritation. Everything is different now because, as he says, there are many collectors, and it's hard to see how they have individual taste or a sense of mission. Mega-dealers such as Hauser & Wirth and Gagosian happily "educate" the tastes of these collectors. Art fairs popularise the idea of art as cool shopping even with those who cannot afford to shop.
Here is the one weakness in his argument. While it is undoubtedly the moneyed global elite and their suck-ups who dominate the art world, there is no revolution at the gates, for art fans from much wider social spheres are sucked into this uncontroversial, irrelevant neophilia.
A broad swathe of the middle class, not just collectors, lap up the videos and pretentious installations he lambasts (he has never collected video), and dismiss any scepticism as "conservative". The art world has taken a lot of innocent people with it on the road to mindless corporate fashionability. It needs an honest critic, and maybe Saatchi's Robert Hughes moment has come. No one can accuse him of being a stuick-in-the-mud.
Harvested in 2011 from the url: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/dec/02/charles-saatchi-art-world-attack?intcmp=239 for "A Collection of Essays on Art" by Michael B. Chang http://www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/on_art.html#_references