Adam Lindemann has the most insightful unpacking of the Charles Saatchi myth in this week’s New York Observer. As Lindemann points out, Saatchi has owned everything but held on to nearly nothing. In his restless pursuit for what’s next, he’s always sold too soon and found himself out of the money. But is that a meaningful mark against him as a collector?
I recently purchased The Saatchi Collection, a book in four parts that catalogs all the great works he owned in the ’80s, and yes, it was amazing, the best Warhol Marilyns and disaster paintings, the best of Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Cy Twombly, Anselm Kiefer and so many more. There are a few market duds in there, and, no, he didn’t have a good Gerhard Richter or Roy Lichtenstein, but he did have a collection that today would be worth well over a $1 billion. And where is it now? All sold long ago. (Much of what’s in the book has shown up at auction, or somewhere else outside of the Saatchi collection.) He sold it all in the early ’90s, before the market ever took off.
Then the former master adman found a bunch of young British artists, created a giddily successful concept now known as the YBAs (young British artists, of course) […] Most of these artists went on to have successful careers off their mega-launch, and though Charles Saatchi is famously quoted as saying that only Damien Hirst will remain in the history books, so far all of them have maintained traction in the market. Where is all that work now? Sold, and at a huge profit—but not anywhere near the market top. […] Moreover, he flipped proceeds into Chinese contemporary art—buying in that category near the top—and also into the 70,000-square-foot Chelsea (London) Gallery that he’s apparently trying to offload. It’s funny: Nobody who buys into the Charles Saatchi myth has ever spent much time considering what it actually costs to maintain, curate, install, insure and program the Saatchi Gallery.