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Saatchi Seeks Takers for Collection as Talks With U.K. Hit Snag

"My Bed" by Tracy Emin. The work was among some 200 works worth more than 25 million pounds ($37.5 million) donated to the British nation by Charles Saatchi. Source: Saatchi Gallery via Bloomberg

Charles Saatchi, who in July said he was giving the British nation his London gallery and more than 25 million pounds ($38 million) worth of art, is seeking other takers after talks with a state-linked body broke down, his gallery’s associate director said.

On July 1, Saatchi said he was giving works to the nation including Tracey Emin’s signature “My Bed” (1998) and Jake & Dinos Chapman’s “Tragic Anatomies” (1996). His gallery, opened in Chelsea in October 2008, would be renamed Museum of Contemporary Art, London, after his retirement.

Today, Saatchi Gallery Associate Director Rebecca Wilson said talks with Arts Council England, which manages the funding of cultural bodies on the government’s behalf, had ended.

“We have had discussions about the gift with the Arts Council,” said Wilson in an e-mailed response to questions, “but we decided that we weren’t comfortable with the idea of working with them, and wrote to them on 23 July to say that we didn’t want to take our discussions any further.”

“We are in conversation with several other potential recipients and will be making a further statement about the gift in due course,” she said.

Asked if this meant talks with the government had collapsed completely, and that Saatchi was withdrawing his gift to the nation, Wilson replied, “Not at all.” She would not elaborate.

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 at 67, 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.

Gifted Works

His July statement said the gifted works would be government-owned, 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.

U.K. media reports said the talks had broken down on the terms of the gift, and specifically on Saatchi’s wish to retain the right to buy and sell works in a publicly owned museum.

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. As for the Saatchi Gallery’s policy of free admission, it has been sponsored since the gallery’s opening two years ago by auction house Phillips de Pury & Co.

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