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Saatchi Gives U.K. His Gallery, $37.5 Million of Art

Charles Saatchi
This is an undated company photo of Charles Saatchi, co-founder of advertising agency M&C Saatchi. Source: M&C Saatchi via Bloomberg News

Charles Saatchi is giving the British nation his London gallery and more than 25 million pounds ($37.5 million) worth of art to secure the institution’s future as a showcase for emerging young artists.

The more than 200 works to be donated include Tracey Emin’s signature “My Bed” (1998) and Jake & Dinos Chapman’s “Tragic Anatomies” (1996), the Saatchi Gallery said. Opened at Duke of York Square in Chelsea in October 2008, the gallery will be renamed Museum of Contemporary Art, London once Saatchi retires.

Saatchi, co-founder of the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency, is the godfather of the so-called Young British Artists, who include Damien Hirst and Emin. Still an active talent scout and a buyer and seller of works, Saatchi has shown new Middle Eastern, Chinese, Asian, U.S. and British art at his gallery, and lets young artists exhibit on his website.

“He’s not retiring anytime soon: He’s fit as a fiddle,” said Rebecca Wilson, the gallery’s director of development, in a telephone interview. “This is really just about making sure that things are carried on in the way that we’ve been doing.”

Wilson said the Saatchi Gallery was, unlike Tate, a “living museum” that was “very alert to contemporary art,” rather than being an “archive of art history.” Saatchi wanted that mission to be continued after him, she said.

Gallery Foundation

Today’s statement comes less than a month after Saatchi turned 67. The works will be government-owned, and available to the public at no cost to the taxpayer. The foundation set up to run the gallery will have the right to buy and sell art. Running costs will be met through sponsorship, catering, retailing and hall hire.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt thanked Saatchi for “an incredible act of generosity.”

“Philanthropy is central to our vision of a thriving cultural sector,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “This is an outstanding example of how Britain can benefit from individual acts of social responsibility.”

Saatchi has said the 200-odd donated works can be loaned to other institutions by the government. One potential beneficiary is Tate, whose curators struggle to expand the collection given the high price of contemporary art.

In a statement, Tate welcomed news that the national collection would be “enhanced in this way. We look forward to contributing to discussions about how the collection will be used by the nation in the long term.”

Cadogan Estate

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

Since opening almost two years ago, the gallery has had auction house Phillips de Pury & Co. sponsor its policy of free admission. Phillips said there was no change to that arrangement.

The gallery “has become the main venue for viewing contemporary art, and it’s truly exciting to have secured this for the public for the long term,” Phillips Chairman Simon de Pury said in an e-mailed statement.

Artists and curators welcomed the move.

“I’m thrilled,” said Emin in the news release. “I wish more people had that kind of vision.”

‘Sensation’ Show

Norman Rosenthal -- who until January 2008 masterminded exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, including a 1997 show of Saatchi-owned works titled “Sensation” -- said Saatchi “is a good thing, and what Charles has done is a good thing.”

“Museums tend to be orthodox even when they’re radical,” said Rosenthal. “Charles has a different take on things.”

“He makes things that don’t usually have so much of a chance become part of the general discussion of art,” said Rosenthal.

Saatchi will carry on owning “many hundreds of works privately” which will go to his family when he dies, the gallery said, though he may donate more before retiring.

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