Meet the Artist
- Meet the Artist: Joe Webb
- Michael Craig-Martin on Educating Damien Hirst
- Damien Hirst loans Artwork To Burger King
- ART DRIVE! - BMW Art Collection 1975–2010, Shoreditch, 21 July - 4 August
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- Presenting a New Charming Baker Sculpture at the V&A, London
- An insightful and entertaining interview with Sir Peter Blake
- Louis Vuitton to Open Seven Pop-Up Shops With Japanese Artist Yayoi Kusama
- New Sir Peter Blake Print: Vintage Blake; An 80th Birthday Celebration.
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Article by Ben Lewis
I am probably the only person who can truly say that Charles Saatchi saved my life. During the holidays in 1986 I worked as a gallery assistant in Charles's Boundary Road gallery in northwest London, during the installation of the Richard Serra and Anselm Kiefer exhibition. I got to drill the holes for hooks in the back of the wooden supports of Kiefer paintings. It was nerve-wracking – one false move and there could be a hole in a £1m masterpiece. At the end of every day I swept the gallery clean of the straw that had fallen off these visceral, apocalyptic landscapes, where paint was mixed with earth, grass and photographs.
I was 19 and earned £80 a week. Cranes were used to position Richard Serra's sculptures in which 1-ton slabs or rolls of rusting steel and lead leaned against each other. These works are quite possibly the most important sculptures of the past 50 years, with their dramatic but abstracted sense of danger, built on the simplest arrangements of materials – leaning, propping and balancing .They could also be lethal: one technician had already been killed installing a Serra in America, and the artist himself had spent months in a wheelchair after another accident.
One day Charles came on a lightning tour of the gallery to see how the installation was going. I and a few "riggers" were holding upright one of the four slabs of One Ton Prop (House of Cards) which leant against each other. As Charles indicated some instant changes he wanted to the position of another work, the head of the installation team motioned the rest of his team to come over. For a moment I was faced with the prospect of holding a ton of lead on my own. "Don't let that young man hold that all by himself," Charles said. I remember a number of stronger men rushing to my assistance. That was Charles – impatient, controlling but also thoughtful towards his serfs. Like an emperor.
As I read The History of the Saatchi Gallery, a magnificent new cloth-and-leather-bound volume reminiscent of an original edition of Macaulay's History of England, I was overcome with melancholy. Charles Saatchi's achievement derives from an imperial character – single-minded, visionary, decisive, bold but also capricious, hot-tempered, hubristic, with a short attention span and a certain vulnerability, that emerges in turns as shyness and defensiveness. Once, he was invincible, but now that times have changed the empire appears too large and undefined. While the court poets still compose panegyrics beyond the walls of his palace, his power is fading. But it's not too late. Charles can save his empire, but he will have to change his ways.
Saatchi almost never gives interviews. He didn't even appear in his own recent TV series, School of Saatchi, on BBC2. When he does talk it's light and unrevealing – as in his 2009 book My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic – so he has to be written about from a distance. The result is that his reputation is still shrouded in the myths of the 1990s, when Charles was the only collector in town. He was the puppet master of contemporary artists. He made and broke reputations with his cheque book. The legend is that he ruined the career of the Italian neo-expressionist figurative painter Sandro Chia by peremptorily selling all the work he owned by him – something he denies. But there's more to the history of the Saatchi Gallery than that.
As far as the book is concerned, there's precious little history in The History of the Saatchi Gallery. The essays are thin, as if most of the stuff's been censored out. But the true story of the Saatchi gallery is epic. There's the first wife who pulled the strings – it was Doris Saatchi who set Charles off on his collecting passion. There are moments when friends fall out over fame and money – like the time when Charles threatened to dump a large number of his Damien Hirsts, including the shark, on the market, so that Hirst and his gallery were cornered into buying them back for millions of pounds more than they had sold them for. There's meddling from rival princes – Saatchi had huge rows with the landlord of County Hall about what he was allowed to show where. There is the overnight accumulation of fortunes, as when Charles sold work for millions of pounds' profit at auction; and there's a climactic come-uppance – but we'll come back to that.
It's a shame Saatchi is not more forthcoming on these controversies, because they do not threaten his achievement. Behind these personal dramas Saatchi changed contemporary cultural history, three times. Between 1985 and 1992 he bought and exhibited Europe and America's leading contemporary artists, from Bruce Nauman and Cindy Sherman to Philip Guston and Sigmar Polke. All these artists already had huge reputations abroad. Charles was certainly not making any of their names. He was an importer, but that is no criticism: no other collector was doing it in Britain. London was nowhere near being a centre for contemporary art like Paris, New York or Berlin; Charles was one of the people who began to change all that.
Then, in the 1990s, he had an altogether more single-handed success. He became the patron of young artists including Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas and Hirst. He bought their work early on from Hirst's Freeze show in 1988, and then from the fledgling galleries of Jay Jopling, Karsten Schubert and others.
He showed them in 1992 in his show Young British Artists, from which the YBA term dates. Hirst had a dramatic solo exhibition at the ICA in 1993, and the buzz around these artists persuaded Norman Rosenthal to put on a show at the stuffy old Royal Academy, consisting entirely of their work, called Sensation. The 1997 show was a smash. The column inches became column miles. There was an outcry in the UK over Marcus Harvey's portrait of Myra Hindley made with children's handprints and, when the show travelled to the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1999, an outcry over Chris Ofili's Madonna with elephant dung. Several of these artists now make works that sells for £500,000 upwards in the primary market.
Charles's achievement here was massive in almost every sense. He invented a new movement – something every critic and curator dreams of doing. Just as Apollinaire came up with cubism and Breton with surrealism, Charles coined YBAs. This was not an empty slogan. The YBAs created a new and accessible fusion of pop and conceptualism that had the distinctively British feel of an indie band. Sarah Lucas's melons and cucumbers were crude but uncanny – pub surrealism. Hume's candy coloured abstract paintings looked like ice cream served by an American colourfield painter. Hirst's shark was "Jaws – the art work", with all its sequels, too. The YBAs made art that was simpler, punchier and more fun (but not necessarily more interesting or original) than what had gone before. The YBAs accelerated the trajectory of artistic style towards production line and brand identity.
Saatchi's YBAs changed culture not only in Britain, but abroad. Takashi Murakami, a Japanese Warhol – perhaps the most successful pop artist at the moment, with huge studios in Japan and NYC, and a show currently at Gagosian's Britannia Street gallery – enthusiastically cites Hirst as an influence. So does India's Subodh Gupta, who makes various $1m skulls, wheels and nuclear explosions out of amalgamations of Indian tiffin cookware. The most famous artist of the moment, Ai Weiwei, imprisoned and then released by the Chinese authorities, is another YBA-influenced figure with his huge studios in China, where a team of assistants follow his instructions delivered in mobile phone calls and occasional visits, and where scores of old Chinese earthenware vases half-dipped in random primary colours are arranged in large grids as installations. You can see these works at the Lisson Gallery in London right now.
I wonder where he got that idea from – you could cleverly exhibit a Hirst spot painting with one of these. It's difficult to imagine the art history of the past 30 years being the same without the YBAs. And it's even more difficult to imagine the YBAs without Charles Saatchi.
Having played a central role in inventing a new kind of art, Charles then led the way inventing a new kind of art economy. He was the most famous of the pioneering new breed of "specullector", a fusion of the art collector and dealer/speculator who drove the art boom of the last decade. In the past, art collectors bought art and held on to it for 10 or 20 years, while dealers bought and sold it within a few months. But from the end of the 1990s Saatchi started doing this with his collection of British and other artists in cycles of five years and less. The art market is based on private transactions so it's difficult to know the extent of this activity, but by the mid-2000s it became more visible through the auction rooms.
In the Triumph of Painting (2005), Saatchi put on wonderful exhibitions of paintings by Peter Doig, Martin Kippenberger and others, then a few months later sent the best of the work to be auctioned for a profit. One of his Doigs went for £6m to a secretive Georgian oligarch. The new owner flew it, along with his $100m Picasso, back to Tbilisi – where the airport was closed down to receive this special cargo – and it then disappeared into storage.
Since then, one often has déjà vu when visiting a contemporary art auction preview, as you turns a corner and suddenly find yourself in part of a previous Saatchi show. Today there are handfuls of specullectors, among whose American ranks are the Warhol-obsessed Mugrabi family and collector-commentator Adam Lindemann, while the entire Chinese art market is driven by Chinese specullectors who Charles inspired. He is now overshadowed by impulsive enthusiasts with far more money than himself. And so it has come to be that Saatchi has become the victim of his own success.
Charles once invited me to dinner in Kensington. I knew this was my big chance to find out how he worked. What I really wanted to know was: what was his strike rate? We know nothing about Charles's inventory, and so we know nothing about his success rate. Perhaps he had thousands of works by forgotten artists he couldn't sell languishing in storerooms. Maybe he took a scattergun approach, buying work from, say, 50 artists a year for £5k each, in the hope that five of these artists would become famous and their work would go up in value 10 times over five years, thus breaking even. That wasn't an unreasonable proposition. But every question I asked was batted away with a cheeky grin.
Instead, Charles seemed more interested in getting stuff out of me – he particularly wanted to see the tattoo which the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye had inscribed on my back. That had been my big prank in my TV series Art Safari. Charles, I realised, was still a bit of a schoolboy, who enjoyed winding people up. He liked to say or create art, and then see what reactions people had to it. In his silences I finally understood the secret of YBA phenomenon. It was jerry-built. Charles splashed some cash and built a hype as best as he could, making things up as he went. In the months leading up to the Sensation exhibition some people bitched he'd even had to go on a new buying spree to acquire several "important" works to fill in gaps in the show. But there was no crime in that. He was adaptable, quick-witted and convincing. But he was also a have-a-go merchant.
The problem with Charles's exhibitions over the past 10 years is that they have tried to repeat the YBA story in other parts of the world. Charles would tell us all about the YAAs – young American artists – in his exhibition USA Today – and the YMEAs in Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East, not forgetting the YCAs in The Revolution Continues: New Art From China. Much of the time, Charles was following a few years behind the trend (a whole room full of Zhang Xiaogangs? You can't make up for lost time with quantity, dude). The descriptions were floridly meaningless. In the Triumph of Painting show I tittered over the description of Dirk Skreber's paintings of a car crash, as "empty spiritualism, transfixing the viewer with its awesome and ethereal presence", while Albert Oehlen's complex pictures "occupy a space between representation and abstraction, his forms and textures converging not to create an illusion, but a suggestion of invention". Much of the work looks like it's deliberately made to fit this story. Exciting but somewhat illogical whole-room pieces like rows of praying burqas made from silver foil, and the waxworks of world leaders in motorised wheelchairs in his basement.
Exhibitions today need more complicated thematic stories, and more scholarly descriptions and cataloguing. The age of curating is upon us, but Charles has so far been unwilling to embrace this change, as other London collectors with private foundations – Anita Zabludowicz, David Roberts and Alex Sainsbury – have wisely been doing. The latest show The Shape of Things to Come exhibits many of the Saatchi flaws. It's the YSAs's – the young sculptural artists – show. Some marvellous work, but far too flashily installed. It's another funfare and fanfare to the future of art from the art world's self-mythologising enigmatic Svengali.
Charles is too withdrawn for the socially networked age we live in. He made a mistake not appearing in his TV series. He's never too far off the pages of the Sunday supplements and celebrity columns, thanks to his wife, Nigella, and is also fabulously connected to Britain's media and political elites. But that's not quite good enough to rule an empire of art in the 21st century. In an age of tweets and blogs, and in which "curating" is the in-word (even DJs are now rechristened music curators), no one buys the mysterious Svengali image any more.
Last week I WENT to the Royal Academy's graduate show party. The students and teachers were celebrating and between spells on the dancefloor, they told me breathlessly how Saatchi had bought up several of the students' complete shows. He paid full price for some, but bargained others down ruthlessly, I was told, offering 50% or less of the asking price. There was no rhyme or reason to the prices he wanted to pay. The students asked me anxiously: did I think it was bad if Saatchi bought their work? Would he sell it all one day and destroy their careers? My answer: don't be silly, it's great if Charles buys your work. He is no longer the only major collector of new artist's work in this country, so he can't make or break your career on his own. But what a shame Charles's image is stuck in the 1990s.
So what next? It could be that Saatchi's History may soon need one final chapter. His exhibitions have failed to make a big impact, while the gallery, insiders say, is incredibly expensive to run. That is probably why last year he surprised everyone, including his own staff, by announcing he was going to give his museum to the nation. A large number of works of art would be donated for free, but discussions with the Arts Council and Ministry of Culture suggested the taxpayer could end up footing the bill for running the gallery. So, a year on, there is no Tate Saatchi as of yet. Jeremy Hunt is still saying no, albeit in the politest terms: "Ministers expressed their gratitude when Mr Saatchi made his very generous offer. We understand that Mr Saatchi is now considering how he wants to move forward, and we are very happy to facilitate any discussions," a spokesman told Bloomberg last week. Cultural fads come and go, and Charles may be ahead of the curve for the first time in a decade, with his diminishing interest in the expensive sport of writing art history with a cheque book.
But I hope that is not the case. Charles has rewritten cultural history three times already. None of Britain's other collectors have done that – or have an ounce of his musketeer-like panache. He just needs to hire a few curators and reinvent his acquisitions strategy. Then perhaps he could change the art world again.
The History of the Saatchi Gallery is published by Booth-Clibborn Editions, £85
Source Slam Hype
Twelve artists including Tracey Emin, Martin Creed and Chris Ofili will design a set of posters for the Olympic and Paralympic Games next summer, as Britain seeks to use the events to showcase its cultural heritage.
The nominated artists were chosen from a list of some 100, but organisers would not disclose how they came to their final decision.
Asked why Damien Hirst had not made the list, for example, Ruth Mackenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad, replied: "I think the answer is, we're not going to go there."
Emin told reporters at an event at Tate Britain gallery, held exactly a year before the London 2012 Festival event gets underway, that she wanted her poster to be a celebration of life in the city.
"(I want to) show the world that London can really throw a party and that was what it was like with the royal wedding," she said, referring to the recent marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton that attracted a huge global television audience.
"In times of depression, what came across as really, really cool was the arts. Arts and culture is the soul of the country," she added. "I'm interested in the party scene, the celebration."
For Michael Craig-Martin, also selected, artists had the advantage over graphic designers when it came to making posters for an event like the Olympics.
"Artists always bring something different, because you are bringing a personal language to it."
He said that while art was not competitive like sport, even when a major award like the Turner Prize was announced, he did suffer from envy of other artists' works, including Martin Creed.
"The minute I looked (at one of his recent works), I felt completely jealous that he had done it and I hadn't."
The full list of commissioned artists is:
* Fiona Banner
* Michael Craig-Martin
* Martin Creed
* Tracey Emin
* Anthea Hamilton
* Howard Hodgkin
* Gary Hume
* Sarah Morris
* Chris Ofili
* Bridget Riley
* Bob and Roberta Smith
* Rachel Whiteread
The London 2012 Festival, which is the culmination of the four-year Cultural Olympiad, will run for 12 weeks from June 21-September 9 and include events around the country.
Dozens of projects have already been announced, ranging from the countrywide Big Dance and The Reading Challenge to a production of Hector Berlioz's "The Trojans" and pop star Damon Albarn's contemporary opera "Dr. Dee."
Something approaching a final list of events will be ready by October, Mackenzie said, as would details of the festival's budget and private sponsors.
Some of the events have been specifically commissioned for the Olympiad climax while others have been held to coincide with the festival.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato) Reuteurs
The year’s biggest test so far for contemporary art dealers, in Switzerland, ended with galleries saying that demand and prices have returned to 2008 levels.
Billionaires splashed out on the best of $1.8 billion works shown at the world’s largest modern and contemporary art fair in Basel, which closed last night. Mark Rothko, Maurizio Cattelan, Anish Kapoor and Bridget Riley were among artists with pieces each selling for more than $2 million.
The spree marks a return to the peak of the boom that ended in 2008. Prices of some artists fell by as much as 50 percent with the crisis following the Lehman Brothers collapse.
“This was the busiest Art Basel for a long time,” said London-based collector Amir Shariat, chief executive of Auctor Capital Partners Ltd. “There was a lot of aspirational buying from collectors I hadn’t seen. The market is deeper and broader now.”
The recovery follows higher sale values at auction, an increasing number of art fairs, and a report by management consultant Bain & Co. that predicted an 8 percent increase in spending on luxury goods in 2011. Big spenders are investing in art to counter concerns about low interest rates, stock prices and weak economic growth, dealers said.
Gagosian sold $45 million of art within the first quarter of an hour, said two dealers with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named. The company, which has galleries in seven countries, doesn’t release sales information.
Works by younger artists with emerging reputations were also in demand. Brussels-based Xavier Hufkens sold an edition of three 2010 Thomas Houseago bronzes, “Yet to be titled (Large Head #1)’’ for between $225,000 and $250,000. The gallery showed a series of minimalist silver abstracts by the New York painter Jacob Kassay, 26, in the fair’s Art Unlimited section.
This year's fair attracted a record 65,000 visitors, the organizers said today in an e-mailed statement.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Japanese artist Takashi Murakamii has been commissioned by Google to produce the latest in its series of Google doodles.
The multicoloured cartoon, titled The First Day of Summer, entwines flowery bursts around gaping mouthed heads characteristic of the Japanese anime style.
The doodle represents the date of the summer solstice, much loved by druids, but the doodle's title is somewhat misleading – the solstice is the longest day in summer, rather than the first, although it may give new hope to those deluged in recent days and those heading to the Glastonbury festival this weekend.
Murakami's work is usually known for its appropriation of high art forms such as sculpture, which he then melds with low art themes from pop culture to mass media. He has produced a variety of contemporary work from 30ft sculptures to his so-called superflat paintings, in which he combines flat graphic imagery and colours to create highly patterned images.
Murakami has also carried out more commercial endeavours including a close collaboration with fashion designer Marc Jacobs, and in 2008 was included in Time magazine's 100 most influential people.
So far this month, the Google doodle has commemorated Russia day, the 92nd birthday of Richard Scarry, author of the Busytown series of children's books, and the total lunar eclipse.
The summer solstice, which falls on 21 June each year, occurs when the Earth's axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun, creating the longest day in the northern hemisphere.
Also known as Midsummer, the solstice has long held spiritual significance for many, some of whom are drawn to sites such as the stone circle at Stonehenge to celebrate. Li, the Chinese goddess of light, also has a festival on the solstice.
The artist Sam Taylor-Wood famous her photographs and films that examine, highly charged scenarios, depicting our shared social and psychological conditions, has been awarded an OBE in the Queen's birthday honours. The 44-year-old from Croydon described it as an "incredible honour"
Taylor-Wood has been a Turner prize nominee, but lately has turned her talents to commercial filmmaking.She recently had success with Nowhere Boy a bio-pic about Beatle, John Lennon's early life. Her installations include a National Portrait Gallery commissioned piece in which she filmed David Beckham asleep. She is also noted for her photo images of people floating in mid air and her Crying Men series, showing a number of Hollywood stars in tears.In the 2004 work, the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Tim Roth, Woody Harrelson, Michael Gambon, Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr and Paul Newman were photographed after Taylor-Wood got them to perform and cry for the camera. She has stated,"It's very gratifying for an artist to get recognition at this level."She won the Most Promising Artist Award at the Venice Biennale in 1997 but she lost out to Chris Ofili when she was shortlisted for the Turner the following year.
Born South London in 1967, Taylor-Wood spent some of her childhood on a commune in East Sussex and graduated from Goldsmiths College in1990. Taylor-Wood’s work examines the split between being and appearance, often placing her human subjects – either singly or in groups – in situations where the line between interior and external sense of self is in conflict.
Stefan Strumbel's central theme is the very German concept of Heimat, which loosely translates as "home" or "native region." He makes tradition provocative, and demands his audience confront their own idea of what their Heimat is and what it means.
His latest project is rescuing a church in a small German town names Goldscheur. The church was barely used despite the large local catholic population and was threatened with closure due to the funding issues. Stefan's proposed a radical reform of the building, an exciting project which would transform the church away from being a dilapidated and unused space to something contemporary and exciting.
You can read the story on Spiegel and view images of the work thus far below
Pictures from Spigel.de
According to German Newspaper, Spiegel when Karl Lagerfeld first saw Strumbel's clocks he exclaimed, "A new expression of German culture, how stimulating." German born Karl Lagerfeld only has one piece of art in his amazing library and that is a clock from Stefan Strumbel.
The clock is a part of his series of clocks called “What the fuck is Heimat?”.
Art, goes the saying, is the stored honey of the human soul. Sir Peter Blake, the father of Pop Art in Britain, has busied himself with a lifetime of foraging for the objects that surround him while he works. And now he is ready to share – some of them, at least - with the world.
Speaking to The IoS ahead of an exhibition of his most treasured possessions, he confessed that he is an incurable collector, a habit he has tried to kick: "It's an illness, isn't it?"
About 150 items gathered by the 78-year old artist throughout his life will go on display next Saturday at the Holburne Museum, in Bath, which re-opens after an £11m refurbishment. Ranging from the dramatic to the almost prosaic, the trove offers an insight into the artist's world.
The exhibition, A Museum for Myself, is named after a 1982 collage Blake made of the things he couldn't part with – his daughters' found art; Marcel Duchamp's autograph; a photograph of George Formby; a painting of the Queen Mary liner and other, apparently random, things which take pride of place at the Holburne.
Blake began collecting as a 14-year-old when he went to Gravesend Art School. "I realised I was going there with no cultural history at all, so for the very first time I went into a junk shop and I bought a papier mâché tray, a painting of the Queen Mary [featured in the 1982 collage], and a set of Shakespeare. I've been going to them ever since."
When Blake was associate artist at the National Gallery, he became a close friend of the curator Alexander Sturgis. Now the director of the Holburne, Mr Sturgis asked Blake to be the subject of the museum's inaugural show after its refurbishment.
Speaking at his studio in west London, Blake gave a flavour of what people can expect. There will be a 5ft-tall ceremonial Indian elephant at the studio entrance that he bought half price from a Mayfair dealer. On a nearby table are six bowling balls, some china figures, miniature portraits and two undistinguished paintings of a house that have just arrived from a nearby auction house. "I go most weeks and leave a bid," Blake said. "And this is what I got this time."
Despite sending scores of items to be viewed in Bath, he is still so hemmed in by possessions that his work area is tiny. On his easel is a painting he has just returned to, a commission from the Knights Bachelor. He was knighted in 2002 and his order has been accorded a chapel in St Paul's Cathedral, for which they have asked him to depict St Martin.
As well as being the seminal pop artist, he is also a rock artist, having designed the album covers for musicians from Paul Weller to Brian Wilson, many of whose autographs are framed on his walls.
Elvis lives here in profusion, simply because there is so much memorabilia to collect, he said: "You'll be hard-pressed to get anything about the Everly Brothers or Chuck Berry." Somewhere here is a piece of the picket fence from Graceland and a tiny square of a gingham sheet from Elvis's bed.
In the corner is a life-size waxwork of Sonny Liston, a veteran of what Blake exasperatedly has to admit the public knows him best for, the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album cover – he was never properly paid for it. Liston was given to Blake by Madame Tussauds as a fee for some graphic design work. He wouldn't allow it to go to Bath.
"Underneath his robe he's also rather fragile, so he doesn't go anywhere any more," he says, patting the mighty shoulder. "And he's my guardian here."