Adam Lindemann has an important but serpentine piece in the New York Observer on the collector Charles Saatchi and his legacy for the art market. The column is pegged to the re-release of The History of the Saatchi Gallery, a book that catalogues the collector’s buying and selling. The real subject of Lindemann’s story is the art market’s odd shibboleth: “The art world to this day loves to adhere to its hypocritical views that dealers are permitted to sell for profit but “collectors” should not do the same.”
Flipping through the book, I couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing Warhols he owned, the Judds and the Mardens, the Freuds and the Serras, though sadly for him he owned no Lichtensteins, Bacons or Basquiats. I couldn’t stop myself from adding up what these artworks would be worth today, forgetting Mr. Saatchi’s recent shows and sticking only to the really good stuff he had up until the end of the mid-’90s: I easily came up with $1.5 billion. Even this past decade he proved he still had the eye when he bought, exhibited and then sold great painters like Marlene Dumas, John Currin and Peter Doig and even a few emerging artists, like the then-up-and-coming Mark Grotjahn, who have since garnered blue-chip status.
Of course, Lindemann is not advocating two-faced flipping but the honest understanding that collectors buy for many reasons, including to validate their prescience which can, in many ways, only be confirmed by a profitable sale. Which isn’t to say that many opportunities to be like Saatchi remain:
Making things more difficult for Mr. Saatchi today is the fact that the art market has become more efficient, and he’s often priced out of it. Rising art prices have forced him to eschew the four-man shows of famous artists he used to do in favor of broader and broader shows with catchy adman titles like “Painting Today” or “Sculpture Tomorrow,” probably because his buy-show-sell strategy has become riskier and less lucrative; art today is fully valued and looks like it will remain so.
Charles Saatchi’s Highs and Lows Revisited by Reissued Book (Observer.com)