When Charles Saatchi first saw Jake and Dinos Chapman's sculpture of pseudo-African totems and masks bearing McDonald's logos, he hailed the work as a standard-bearer of "what great art should be" – and bought it for a reported £1m.
Now, six years after Saatchi's epiphany at the White Cube Gallery, the Tate Gallery has acquired the work. The sale, according to The Art Newspaper, is likely to be one of the gallery's most expensive purchases of contemporary art in recent years. It was aided by The Art Fund, an independent arts charity. The price has yet to be disclosed, and will be revealed in the Tate's next biennial report.
The Chapman Family Collection, which helped earn the brothers a Turner Prize shortlist nomination in 2003, was most recently lent by Saatchi to a Tate Liverpool retrospective, which opened in December 2006. It is believed that it was after this exhibition that sale discussions between Saatchi and the Tate began.
The deal was arranged through the White Cube Gallery, which represents the two artists. It is unclear if the gallery bought the work back from Saatchi before selling it on to the Tate or whether it served merely as an intermediary. It is widely known that Saatchi, one of Britain's most significant arts collectors who is due to open his new gallery this spring, has sold much of his collection from the 1990s to add new works by emerging international artists.
The work consists of 34 carved and painted pieces inspired by African masks and fetish objects, and incorporates McDonald's symbols. The faux-ethnographic works have clown faces and features made from burger buns.
Reviewers hailed the work as a symbol of a global age in which the American fast food chain had infiltrated "the most remote corners of the world", while Jake Chapman is reported to have offered a rather different explanation by saying: "We want to make McDonald's into a religion."
When it was shortlisted for the Turner prize, the Tate described the work as paying "ironic homage to the fast food giant". It added: "They appeared genuinely authentic until a closer inspection revealed the corporate symbolism of the hamburger chain. Issues of colonialism, capitalism, racism and globalisation are inherent in the work, yet no critique or political statement is offered by the artists. Rather, the Chapmans' aim is to unearth the contradictions and hypocrisies present in contemporary culture, posing questions but providing no answers."
Tate already owns two sculptures by the brothers, including Little Death Machine, which was given anonymously in 1997, and Disasters of War, which consists of a series of three-dimensional recreations of Goya's etchings depicting acts of violence, which was bought in 1998.
The brothers rose to prominence in the 1990s, becoming seminal figures in the Young British Artists movement. They were among the group of YBAs whose works created a storm in the 1997 Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy.