It’s amazing what a new book and upcoming television show will do for anyone with the reputation of being reclusive or press-shy. Charles Saatchi is hardly a shrinking violet or rarely talked about. He is, however, usually loathe to talk to the press. But The Evening Standard and The Guardian both have interviews with him where he gets off the better lines.
Here’s The Guardian:
You have been described both as a “super-collector” and as “the most successful art dealer of our times”. Looking back on the past 20 years, how would you characterise your activities?
Who cares what I’m described as? Art collectors are pretty insignificant in the scheme of things. What matters and survives is the art. I buy art that I like. I buy it to show it off in exhibitions. Then, if I feel like it, I sell it and buy more art. As I have been doing this for 30 years, I think most people in the art world get the idea by now. It doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind about the art that I end up selling. It just means that I don’t want to hoard everything for ever.
Your practice of buying emerging artists’ work has proved highly contagious and is arguably the single greatest influence on the current market because so many others, both veteran collectors and new investors, are following your lead, vying to snap up the work of young, relatively unknown artists. Do you accept that you are responsible for much of the speculative nature of the contemporary art market?
I hope so. Artists need a lot of collectors, all kinds of collectors, buying their art.
Who are the artists you are most pleased with discovering?
Over the years I have been very lucky to see some great artists’ work just at the start of their careers, so that I could feel “pleased with discovering” them. However, I have also “discovered” countless artists who nobody but me seemed to care much for and whose careers have progressed very slowly, if at all. So I certainly don’t have an infallible gift for spotting winners. I think it’s fair to say that I bought Cindy Sherman in her first exhibition in a group show, with some of her black-and-white film stills framed together in those days as a collage of 10 images, and went on to buy much of her work for the next few years. I bought most of the work from Jeff Koons’s first exhibition in a small and now-defunct artist-run gallery in New York’s East Village, which included the basketballs floating in glass aquariums and the Hoovers and other appliances in fluorescent-lit vitrines. But this is getting too self-congratulatory and the truth is I miss out on just as many good artists as I home in on.
Should the country be spending money on saving old masters for the nation, or buying up works by the next generation of artists?
At the risk of being lynched – again – by the art crowd, I don’t think there is a great need any more to save paintings for the nation at the cost of supporting new art. What difference does it make if a Titian is hanging in the National Gallery, the Louvre or the Uffizi? This isn’t the 18th century: people travel, so there’s no need to be nationalistic about the world’s art treasures. Much more important is to back living artists.
What is your favourite museum in the world?
The Prado in Madrid. I have a weakness for Goya, but the museum itself is so unfussy, and clearly loves to display its many masterpieces as unshowily as possible, each visit reinforces my belief in the enduring importance of art.
Here’s the Standard:
You don’t go to openings or parties and rarely give interviews. Why is a man with such a flair for publicity so reclusive?
I’m just a cocktail party dud, I’m afraid, and am lost in admiration for friends who are at ease walking into a roomful of people, and chatting happily as they work the room. I would do more interviews but I think I am too sensitive (definition: vain and touchy).
After your death, would you like to see the core of your collection kept together and remain on public view?
I don’t buy art in order to leave a mark or to be remembered; clutching at immortality is of zero interest to anyone sane. I did offer my collection to Nicholas Serota at the Tate in 2005. This was about the time I was struggling with the problems at County Hall – both the alarming behaviour of the Japanese landlords and my failure to get a grip on how to use the space well. I remembered that at the time Tate Modern opened, Nick had told me that there were new extensions planned that would add half again to the gallery capacity. But by the time I offered the collection to Nick, the Tate already had commitments for the extension. So I lost my chance for a tastefully engraved plaque and a 21-gun salute. And now the mood has passed, and I’m happy not to have to visit Tate Modern, or its storage depot, to look at my art.
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 well-installed 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.
30 Things About Art and Life (The Guardian)
Confessions of an Art Collector (This Is London)