Art collector Charles Saatchi has a gift for Britain. It includes Tracy Emin’s messy bed, Grayson Perry’s explicit pottery and a room full of engine oil. The advertising tycoon, whose patronage made household names of artists like Emin and Damien Hirst, announced Thursday he is donating his London gallery and 200 works in its collection to the nation as a new public art museum. The gallery said the works, valued at more than 25 million pounds ($37 million), will be given to the government. The 70,000-square foot (6,500-square meter) Saatchi Gallery will be renamed the Museum of Contemporary Art, London.
The artworks being donated include Emin’s “My Bed” — the artist’s famous recreation of her boudoir, complete with empty liquor bottles, condoms and cigarette butts — and Richard Wilson’s “20:50,” an eye-dazzling room filled with oil. There are also works by Perry — best known for vases adorned with disturbing twists on classical scenes — and artists from around the world, including China’s Zhang Dali and India’s Jitish Kallat.
Emin said she was thrilled by Saatchi’s gift. “I wish more people had that kind of vision,” she said.
Saatchi, co-founder of the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency, was the main patron of the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s, which made Hirst and Emin millionaires.
He captured the public imagination with his 1997 exhibition “Sensation,” which included Hirst’s shark pickled in formaldehyde and Emin’s tent appliqued with the names of “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995.”
The show’s impact lived up to its name. When it opened in New York in 1999, then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani was so offended by Chris Ofili’s portrait of the Virgin Mary adorned with elephant dung that he temporarily cut off funding to the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition’s success helped make Saatchi one of the art world’s most powerful figures.
“He was part of the perfect storm of British art’s success,” Perry said. Since then Saatchi — who is married to celebrity chef Nigella Lawson — has continued to collect, amassing a vast collection. The gallery said even after the donation, Saatchi would still own “many hundreds” of works.
“I think he has a scatter-gun approach but in his trawling he’s picked up some extraordinary stuff,” Perry said. “This is by no means an insignificant gift. It’s the cream of the crop.”
Saatchi’s current gallery opened in 2008 in London’s affluent Chelsea neighborhood and has mounted shows by emerging artists from India, China and the Middle East. Saatchi’s announcement is a boost to an arts community worried about looming cuts to government funding. Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has said ministries will have to slash budgets by up to 25 percent to eliminate the country’s record deficit.
The aim is to keep the space free to the public, with operating funds coming from individual and corporate sponsorship along with revenue from its restaurant, bookshop and rentals for outside events held there. The gift would also include artworks that could be sold to acquire other art so that the museum could remain a showcase for the latest works.
Rebecca Wilson, associate director of the Saatchi Gallery, said as well as the 200-strong core collection, the gift includes other works that can be sold to buy new acquisitions to keep the collection changing and current. The British government has not yet accepted the gift, although discussions are in progress, said Ruth Cairns, a spokeswoman for the Saatchi Gallery, who added that she had no timetable for a final decision. Also unclear is when Mr. Saatchi plans to retire, which Ms. Cairns said had not yet been determined. A statement from the two-year-old gallery also said that Mr. Saatchi would receive no tax benefits from the gift.
She said Saatchi “wants to give London and the country something it wouldn’t have otherwise, which is a very agile collection that can respond quickly to developments in contemporary art from all over the world.”
The owner of the building that houses the gallery on London’s King’s Road, Cadogan Estate, said it hoped the new museum would remain in the same location “for the foreseeable future.” Wilson said the gallery’s staff and management team would stay in place, and Saatchi, who turned 67 last month, was not planning to retire anytime soon.
“He just wants to prepare things for the future and make sure the Saatchi Gallery retains its unique character,” she said.
Check out also an Interseting article about art donations, by Sarah Murray from the Financial Times, who wrote “Art smart: how to donate artworks”.