As the man who paid £150,000 for an unmade bed and £1m for a 20ft anatomical model, Charles Saatchi has long known that cutting edge art is an expensive business. Now, so do visitors to his showpiece exhibition space.
The Saatchi Gallery, which has attracted more than 300,000 customers since it moved into the splendour of County Hall, opposite the Houses of Parliament, has been named as one of the two most expensive museums in the world.
A survey by The Art Newspaper of 50 museums in Europe, America and Japan found that the Saatchi Gallery, which houses the highlights of Mr Saatchi's vast collection of so-called BritArt, was second only to the Guggenheim in New York by charging £8.50 for a full price adult ticket.
The fee is substantially more than that at some of the world's most important museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which charges $12 (£7.11) per adult, the Vatican Museums (€10 or £6.94), the Hermitage in St Petersburg (€8.75) and the Louvre (€7.5). The New York Guggenheim charges $15 (£8.89) while the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston also costs $15 for a ticket that allows two visits.
Critics of Mr Saatchi, who enjoys a controversial reputation as Britain's foremost patron of contemporary art, said the entrance fee to his gallery was out of proportion to its contents.
David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw magazine, said: "I would say there is an inverse relationship between the price you pay to get into the Saatchi gallery and the artistic significance of what you see.
"You can't compare it to a truly great museum like the New York Met and yet you have to pay more. If you really want a price comparison with the Saatchi then you should look at how much it costs for a seat at the circus. They are the same thing, a variety of stunts interspersed with a few bits of good work."
Supporters of the Saatchi Gallery said its prices had not discouraged visitors since it opened in April this year. By the time of the closure of its first temporary exhibition of work by Damien Hirst in September, it had been seen by 320,000 people. The Art Newspaper, one of the art world's leading journals, said it estimated the annual total would be more than 500,000, representing an income of about £4m.
The paper pointed out that its survey was not exhaustive and did not take into account the cost of living in each of the countries. But it added: "The running costs of the [Saatchi] gallery are undisclosed but on these visitor figures the gallery is likely to generate a surplus. It may prove difficult, however, to sustain visitor numbers at this level in the long term."
The gallery, which says that the majority of its visitors would not be classified as traditional "art enthusiasts", refused to comment on the survey's findings. But a spokeswoman, who said the gallery's visitor numbers had "far exceeded expectations", pointed out that the entrance charge covered both the permanent collection and a temporary exhibition. Entry to other current temporary exhibitions costs £7 at the National Gallery, £8 at Tate Modern and £9 at the Royal Academy.
Mr Saatchi, who made his name as half of the advertising agency he ran with his brother Maurice, has personal control over what is displayed in the gallery from his 2,000-piececollection. Among the exhibits are works that have fuelled debate on the value of contemp-orary art, including Tracey Emin's My Bed, her unmade bed featuring cigarette packs and condoms, and Damien Hirst's Hymn, a 20ft anatomic model.
The survey said Spain was the cheapest of those countries that charge for entry to their museums, with the Prado in Madrid costing just €3.
ENTRY PRICES FOR COSTLIEST MUSEUMS
1: Guggenheim, New York $15 (£8.89)
2: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston $15 (£8.89) (includes two visits)
3: Saatchi Gallery, London £8.50
4: Mori Museum, Tokyo ¥1,500 (£8.22)
5: Fondation Beyler, Berne Sfr16 (£7.07)
6: Frick Collection, New York $12 (£7.11)
7: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York $12 (£7.11)
8: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York $12 (£7.11)
9: Vatican Museums, Rome €10 (£6.94)
10: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna €10 (£6.94)
Source: The Art Newspaper
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