A month after his highly publicised sale of 130 works raised £1,626,560 to fund bursaries and commissions for young artists, Charles Saatchi has announced that he is to donate a further 100 works of art to the Arts Council. “I greatly admire the Arts Council Collection and its ongoing support over many years for young artists”, said Mr Saatchi. “It will give these artists a chance to be seen more widely across the country.” The gift, reputedly worth over £500 000, includes such striking pieces as Rose Finn Kelcey’s “Steam installation (1992)”, a dancing vortex of steam contained in a giant press, which was exhibited at Saatchi’s “Young British artists 11”; Richard Wilson’s greenhouse construction with insectocutors, “High rise” (1989) and John Frankland’s “You can’t touch this” (1992-93), a gold trompe l’oeil lobby and lift created from laminated polythene which was on view at the Saatchi Gallery between 1994-96.
Also being donated are works by fourteen of the artists featured in “Sensation”, which has just finished touring to Berlin: Richard Billingham, Glenn Brown, Simon Callery, Adam Chodzko, Keith Coventry, Peter Davies, Paul Finnegan, Mark Francis, Alex Hartley, Abigail Lane, Jonathon Parsons, Hadrian Piggott, James Rielly, and Jane Simpson.
Although the Hayward Gallery, which administers the Arts Council’s collection, describes Saatchi’s gift as comprising works by artists who “have formed the bedrock of the Young British Artist phenomenon”, conspicuously absent are the more blue chip names: Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas and Chris Ofili, whose works’ prices soared above their estimates at the December 1998 Christie’s auction.
As with any action of Saatchi’s, his gift to the Arts Council has unleashed a flurry of speculation. Is this an act of altruism or a way to offload some of his less certain investments? A bit of both, it seems. In the same way as his scholarship and sponsorship bursaries created from the Christie’s auction will provide much needed cash for art students (but will also ensure that the Saatchi collection will have the pick of the crop), a close look at the sixty-five artists being donated to the Arts Council points to Mr Saatchi’s continuing ability to make his philanthropy work to his advantage. “He’s not giving away any of the jewels of his collection. They are all strictly B and C list and many of them have been around for quite a while”, says one art market insider. “He’s just continuing to prune his collection and enhance his reputation at the same time.”
The Arts Council are not prepared, however, to look Saatchi’s gift horse in the mouth. “This incredibly generous gift reflects work by a diverse range of artists from all over Britain. Many of them are already in the Arts Council’s collection; others are on our wish list”, said Hayward Gallery director Susan Ferlager-Brades. “At present we purchase up to fifty new works a year, so this represents three years’ worth of acquisitions.” Ms Ferlager-Brades states that “we look forward to making all the work available for loan” and a Hayward Gallery representative confirms that the pieces given by Charles Saatchi will be integrated into the permanent, touring and temporary exhibitions of the Arts Council’s Collection and will not be shown as a separate grouping under the Saatchi name.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Virtuous self-regard?'