Charles Saatchi is to move his gallery from the South Bank to Chelsea, following a row with his landlord, Makota Okamoto. In announcing his decision, Mr Saatchi was highly critical of Mr Okamoto: “The behaviour of the landlord has made our long-term tenancy [at County Hall] untenable. He has made the gallery staff despondent with an endless campaign of petty unpleasantness and we didn’t feel the gallery could develop in this malevolent atmosphere.”
Mr Saatchi’s collection of contemporary art will go to the Duke of York’s Headquarters, the former Territorial Army building in King’s Road, near Sloane Square. The neo-Classical building (far right) dates from 1801 and six years ago it was sold by the Ministry of Defence to Cadogan Estates. Renovation work should start next April and the new gallery is scheduled to open in 2007. The exhibition space will be larger than the present gallery at County Hall, the former home of the Greater London Council on the South Bank.
The move, announced on 27 September, follows a series of disputes between Mr Saatchi and Mr Okamoto, who is European head of Shirayama Shokusan. The Japanese-owned company had bought County Hall for £60 million in 1993 and then leased space to Cadogan Leisure Investments (this company is not connected to Cadogan Estates, which owns the Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea).
The announcement of Mr Saatchi’s decision to leave County Hall was made only nine days before a High Court case, which began on 6 October. Shirayama Shokusan and Cadogan Leisure Investments are taking action against Danovo, the company which runs the Saatchi gallery and holds a 20-year sublease from Cadogan Leisure Investments. The two property companies argue that the gallery has consistently encroached on areas of County Hall which are not within its leased area. These include a corridor, a toilet for the disabled and another room.
During the hearing, lawyers for Shirayama Shokusan also claimed that Mr Saatchi wanted to continue to maintain a presence in County Hall, by setting up “either a low-cost museum of photography or a museum of very new young artists.” Judgement was expected shortly when we went to press.
There has been much speculation about how the Saatchi Gallery has done in terms of visitors since it opened in County Hall on 17 April 2003. Last month its press spokesman told us that there had been 750,000 visitors by June 2004, which works out at just over 50,000 a month. Figures for July 2004 to January 2005 were not provided, but they are believed to have fallen considerably. They picked up this year, with the “Triumph of painting” displays, and from 25 January to 15 September there were 360,000 visitors, or 46,000 a month. Considering the £9 adult admission fee, these numbers are high.
County Hall, located on the South Bank almost opposite the Palace of Westminster, is very centrally located in an area popular with tourists. The new Chelsea site may have to struggle to attain these numbers, unless the improved space and facilities, which will include a restaurant, turn out to be a major draw.
Meanwhile, the Saatchi Galley has announced its final exhibition programme for County Hall. The “Triumph of painting” is being extended, with part III to open on 4 November, with featured artists Dana Schutz, Inka Essenhigh, Matthias Weischer, Eberhard Havekost, Michael Raedecker and Dexter Dalwood. This runs until 5 February 2006 and there will then be three further displays until April 2007. A selection from the Saatchi works will also be shown at Leeds City Art Gallery, from next January.