Revealed: How Saatchi paints too rosy a picture of his own generosity

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The Independent Online
AS A PIECE of artistic altruism it seemed unprecedented. In a blaze of publicity, the advertising agency mogul Charles Saatchi sold off 130 works from his collection to raise money for young artists.

Now, however, it is looking as if the Saatchi gift for eyecatching publicity was as much in evidence as Saatchi altruism.

Immediately after the sale by Christie's last month, a joint announcement by the auction house and the Saatchi Gallery said: "All proceeds of the [pounds 1,626,560] sale will go to create bursaries for young artists at four of London's schools of art: Chelsea, Goldsmiths', the Royal College and The Slade as well as a Young Artists Sponsorship Bursary to support artists' projects and commissions."

But as more details now emerge of the financial arrangements, it seems that Mr Saatchi has found a way of redefining philanthropy to suit both recipient and giver.

While young artists will certainly be helped, the successful ones will exhibit only in the gallery owned by Charles Saatchi and their works will join the collection owned by Charles Saatchi.

The grand-sounding Young Artists' Sponsorship Bursary is thus revealed as just another way of saying that the money is going back to Saatchi to commission new works exclusively for the Saatchi Gallery, which can later be sold.

Of the pounds 1.6m raised from the sale, only pounds 10,000 a year will go to each of the art colleges for their bursaries. And even that will be reviewed at the end of this year.

The current edition of Art Monthly magazine voices criticism of the way the sale was presented. It says: "Although this seems like a grand philanthropic gesture, the Scholarship Bursaries will only amount to pounds 10,000 per college per year, will be awarded on a regular basis and reviewed annually. The rest of the money will be used by the Saatchi Gallery to commission new work by young artists (the so-called Sponsorship Bursary) that will be shown at the Saatchi Gallery and then join the Saatchi Collection, thereby ensuring that Saatchi is able to acquire at an advantageous price some of the best work of any new crop of artists."

Andrew Wilson, assistant editor of Art Monthly, said yesterday: "There's no guarantee that the bursaries for the colleges will continue. As for the `sponsorship bursaries' these are just another way that Charles Saatchi can get in on the bottom rung and find new artists for his collection. He buys Damien Hirst cheap, the price goes up, he sells and with the profit invests in new artists. It's quite a sensible thing to do. But the way the sale was presented certainly fudged what was really happening."

A director of one of the art colleges which is a beneficiary of the sale, but who did not wish to be named, said: "It's like tobacco sponsorship of motor racing. Of course, there is something in it for the sponsor - in this case rather a lot - but it still helps young artists so we are not complaining."

Graham Crowley, head of painting at the Royal College of Art, said yesterday: "It is pounds 10,000 a year, reviewable year-by-year. I think it is money put back into the art world in a most constructive way."

The official spokeswoman at the Saatchi Gallery said she was unaware of the exact financial arrangements regarding the sale and the bursaries, and referred all inquiries to the gallery curator, Jenny Blyth. Ms Blyth did not respond to calls.

After the sale in December, Charles Saatchi said in a statement: "Christie's has done a wonderful job ... We are pleased to see that the art has done well as this will enable us to extend and broaden the bursaries."

At the Saatchi sale, Damien Hirst's cabinet of jars of internal organs of cattle called The Lovers (Spontaneous, Committed, Detached, Compromising) fetched the joint top price of the day pounds 139,000. Rachel Whiteread's cast of a sink went for pounds 133,000, a personal record. And a painting by Chris Ofili, latest winner of the Turner Prize, sold for pounds 21,850.

A man of

many tastes

IT WAS Saatchi's former wife Doris who started his collection when she bought him a minimalist work by Sol de Witt in 1970. Before that his interests had been comics and records.

Together they collected Lichtensteins, Warhols, Twomblys and Johnses. Later Saatchi bought artists born or working in Britain, and paid a record pounds 2m for a Lucian Freud. But he became the father of the Britpack when he toured the student shows, buying installations by Damien Hirst and other future Turner Prize winners and exhibiting them at his gallery.

"Sensation", the exhibition which opened in 1997 at the Royal Academy, dutifully lived up to its title and was visited by 300,000 people. The exhibits were all from Saatchi.

Now Saatchi is into the "new neurotic realists", with an exhibition opening at his gallery next week. Many of these young artists are painters, unlike most of the Britpack. And their subject matter is more likely to be a grittily naturalistic tableau of a woman having her home taken away than an animal in formaldehyde.

David Lister

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