Saatchi Still Seeking Taker for Gallery, Year After U.K. Offer

Charles Saatchi, the British collector who last July offered to donate his London gallery and more than 25 million pounds ($41 million) worth of art to the nation, has yet to reach agreement on who they will go to.

Talks with Arts Council England -- the organization that funds cultural bodies on the government’s behalf -- ended last year after Saatchi’s representatives decided not to work with the Arts Council. The Saatchi Gallery said it has since held discussions with other unspecified organizations.

“We are still talking to many potential recipients for the gift, but nothing is confirmed as yet,” Saatchi Gallery Associate Director Rebecca Wilson said in an e-mailed response to questions. She would not elaborate. Saatchi wasn’t available for comment, Wilson said yesterday.

Saatchi, 68, co-founder of the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency, is an active art buyer and seller who backed the “Young British Artists” group that included Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. On July 1, 2010, he said he was giving away works including Emin’s signature “My Bed” (1998) and Jake & Dinos Chapman’s “Tragic Anatomies” (1996).

The works would be government-owned, he said, and available to the public at no cost to the taxpayer. A foundation would be set up to run the gallery and would have the right to buy and sell art. Running costs would be met through sponsorship, catering, retailing and hall hire, he said.

When the announcement was made, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt immediately thanked Saatchi for “an incredible act of generosity.”

Yet in the last 11 months, no government department or institution has received the works.

Talks Offer

“Ministers expressed their gratitude when Mr. Saatchi made his very generous offer,” Simon Oliver, a spokesman for Hunt’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said in a June 13 telephone interview. “We understand that Mr. Saatchi is now considering how he wants to move forward, and we are very happy to facilitate any discussions.”

Saatchi’s talks with Arts Council England ended in late July 2010 because “we decided that we weren’t comfortable with the idea of working with them,” Saatchi’s adviser Wilson said in September 2010.

Last week, Arts Council Chief Executive Alan Davey indicated that he was open to further dialogue.

“We had conversations, and we said that we’d be happy to restart those conversations in the future, depending on the donor’s wishes,” Davey said in an interview.

“One of the key elements of the discussion was about the saleable part of the collection,” Davey said. “That would require a lot more thrashing through.”

Right to Sell

The Arts Council manages the largest national loan collection of modern British and contemporary art, with more than 7,500 works. Those works -- which are given by artists or bought at a reduced price -- cannot be sold. One of the conditions of Saatchi’s offer is his right to sell the works.

Saatchi’s 70,000-square-feet (6,503-square-meter) building in London’s affluent Chelsea district is rented. Its owner is the Cadogan Estate, which, together with Saatchi himself, spent more than 20 million pounds redeveloping it.

In a separate development, the Saatchi Gallery has lost the sponsor of its free-admission policy: Auction house Phillips de Pury & Co., which had supported the gallery from its October 2008 opening, pulled out in April this year, saying in an e- mailed news release that it wished to focus on its own spaces in London and New York.

The gallery now has the support of BNP Paribas (BNP) SA, Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) and Standard Chartered Plc (STAN), as well as the patronage of Chanel SA, Wilson said.

“This, along with the support of our other sponsors, means that the Saatchi Gallery will continue to be free for all our exhibitions,” Wilson said.

To contact the writer on the story: Farah Nayeri in London at Farahn@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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