Saatchi clashes with Serota over £200m 'gift' of artworks to Tate

Tate Modern refused an offer by Charles Saatchi to donate his entire £200m collection of modern art, Britain's leading arts patron claimed yesterday.

Tate Modern refused an offer by Charles Saatchi to donate his entire £200m collection of modern art, Britain's leading arts patron claimed yesterday.

Mr Saatchi said the proposal, which would have turned the Tate into the world's foremost collection of contemporary art with his 2,500 works, was spurned by its director, Sir Nicholas Serota, last October because the museum "already had commitments".

Sir Nicholas insisted that the works were offered on loan only, but the disagreement has fuelled tensions between two of the most influential figures in British art.

Last November, Mr Saatchi described the Turner Prize, exhibited at the Tate, as "rehashed claptrap". He said he made his offer when he was having problems with the landlord at his County Hall gallery, close to the Tate Modern on London's Bankside, which opened in May 2003.

"I did offer my collection to Nicholas Serota last year," he said. "I was struggling with the alarming behaviour of the Japanese landlords and I remembered at the time the Tate Modern opened, Nick had told me there were extensions planned that would add half again
to the gallery capacity," Mr Saatchi told The Art Newspaper in a rare interview.

"By the time I offered the collection to Nick, the Tate already had commitments for the extension. So I lost my chance for a tastefully engraved plaque and a 21-gun salute. Now the mood has passed, and I'm happy not to have to visit Tate Modern, or its storage depot, to look at my art."

Asked to assess the Tate as a contemporary art museum, Mr Saatchi praised Sir Nicholas, who has been in the post since 1998, calling him "my hero, to have pulled it off so masterfully".

Mr Saatchi did attack the Tate, saying that its exhibition was disappointing and accusing curators of lacking ambition. He said the Tate, which receives £30m a year in government funding, missed crucial investment opportunities in the 1990s "when even the piddliest budget would have bought you a great many works".

Sir Nicholas told The Art Newspaper: "At no point was there any suggestion that the collection was being offered as a gift."

The works include Tracey Emin's My Bed, Marcus Harvey's portrait of Myra Hindley and Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde.

Last month, the Tate asked 23 artists including Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Hirst, to donate works which it said it could no longer afford. It has £56m in lottery funding and is seeking millions more to compete with museums such as New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Sir Nicholas was unavailable for comment yesterday.

THE COLLECTOR AND THE CURATOR

CHARLES SAATCHI

BORN Baghdad, Iraq in 1943, son of a merchant

EARLY DAYS Set up advertising agency with his brother Maurice in 1970. Became household name for 1979 election campaign

HIGHLIGHTS His 1997 Sensation exhibition, with its portrait of Myra Hindley

LOWLIGHTS A cast of the artist Marc Quinn's head, made from his own frozen blood, melted after builders pulled out the freezer's plug

WHAT HE SAYS "There's nothing complicated about me"

WHAT CRITICS SAY "A man of crushes ­ cars, clothes, artists" (former wife Kay Hartenstein)

SIR NICHOLAS SEROTA

BORN London, 1946

EARLY DAYS An exhibition organiser for the Arts Council in the early 1970s

HIGHLIGHTS His reign at the Tate Modern, winning credit for its success

LOWLIGHTS Abandoning plans for a Hirst retrospective at the Tate Modern after Saatchi decided not to co-operate

WHAT HE SAYS "We're putting on a mix of popular and academic shows. I don't think it's a choice between the two. It's essential to have both"

WHAT CRITICS SAY "Serota is dangerously narrow in tastes" (Brian Sewell, art critic)

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