Critics Lash out at New Saatchi Gallery | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.04.2003
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Critics Lash out at New Saatchi Gallery

Charles Saatchi's long awaited new gallery opens on Tuesday night, amid criticism that his influence over the UK art world is, in fact, a stranglehold.


Hirst is on show at Saatchi, but he thinks it's pointless

Multimillionaire art collector Charles Saatchi – regarded by many as the most influential man in the British art world - opens his long awaited new gallery in London on Tuesday night.

Rock icon David Bowie, artist Tracey Emin and actor Jeremy Irons are just some of the guests who will be at the extravagant launch of the gallery, which is housed in the former seat of London's city government. The 40,000 square foot exhibition space forms only part of one of the largest Edwardian buildings in the British capital and is a stone's throw from the state-subsidised Tate Modern, on London's South Bank.

But art critics and artists are less than impressed with the new exhibition space, regarded by many as the work of a man who has a stranglehold on British art.

Saatchi is moving his collection from his old smaller gallery, a converted paint factory in north London, to the center of the British capital in a bid to attract a wider audience.

The gallery – which will charge an £8.50 entrance fee and hopes to attract around 750,000 visitors a year – will be vying for visitors with the much feted Tate Modern, which is free of charge. Ad man founder of Brit Art School

Charles Saatchi made a fortune in the 1980s with his brother, Maurice in advertising and is renowned for the emergence of the controversial Brit Art School in the early 1990s.

The 59 year-old started collecting art in the 1970s and now owns around 2,500 pieces. It was Saatchi himself who coined the term, Young British Artist (YBA), a group to which celebrated British artists, Damien Hirst (now 38) and Tracey Emin (40) belong.

Hirst, who is famous for his still life sculptures of dead animals preserved in formaldehyde, was plucked from obscurity and shot to fame by Saatchi in the early 1990's. Saatchi bought Hirst's 20 feet tall sculpture, "Hymn" straight from the 38 year old artist's studio for £1 million (€1.4 million).

"A waste of space"

But British art critics and artists alike have been swift to slam Saatchi's new project.

Saatchi Gallery Tracey Emin My Bed 1998

Hirst himself called the new gallery "pointless" and "a waste of time", pointing out that his works forming much of the art on show have all been shown before. Indeed, both Emin -- whose famous unmade bed installation (right) is also on show at the Saatchi gallery -- and Hirst were recently dismissed as "relics of the nineties" by the head of London's Institute of Contemporary Art, Philip Dodd.

The Independent's art critic, Tom Lubbock, wrote that the new gallery's curating was "abominable" and the initiative an "extraordinary historic flop."

But Adrian Serle, art critic at the Guardian was even more harsh, calling the gallery the equivalent of a "provincial gulag."

Serle continued that Saatchi's stranglehold over the British art world was removed the opportunity for British art to "breathe...get out more and be allowed to grow up"

"The master criminal has struck again, he wrote. "Buying the works, flogging the art down the river."

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