Damien Hirst, the man who scandalised the art establishment by exhibiting animal carcasses, has turned his predatory instincts on the hand that has fed him a fortune by launching an outspoken attack on Brit Art's biggest private collector, Charles Saatchi.
Mr Saatchi – who with his brother Maurice led the most successful advertising agency of the Eighties – has spent most of the subsequent decade spending millions of pounds on the work of young British Artists such as Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas.
Mr Saatchi commissioned Hirst's shark floating in formaldehyde, which was shortlisted for the Turner Prize, and last year he paid £1m for Hymn, an outsize bronze statue of the human form.
But, having grown rich on Mr Saatchi's patronage, Hirst now seems to have tired of the businessman's influence, saying he "only recognises art with his wallet" and accusing him of trying to control the art market. "Art's dragging him around on a leash and he doesn't know it. Or maybe he does know it. But there's no way he'll stop. He loves it, so he wants to possess it," Hirst says in an interview.
Hirst admits that Mr Saatchi has been "generous to artists" but calls him an "arrogant" and "childish" businessman "addicted to shopping". In interviews with the author Gordon Burn, due to be published in October, he says: "I grew up in a world where Charles Saatchi believed he could affect art values with buying power. He still believes he can do it."
Karen Wright, editor of Modern Painters, defended the role of Mr Saatchi yesterday. She insisted the patron, whose new gallery in Shoreditch, east London will be devoted to the work of Young British Artists, was a benign influence on the art world. "He's a very good thing for the arts. There are always going to be people who support art and put their money where their mouth is – it's a historical phenomenon."
Emin said more people should follow Mr Saatchi's example. "We should have more people like him and then Charles wouldn't have such a strong influence on the market. At the end of the day he's an art collector, not an arms dealer."Reuse content