Saatchi returns fire at 'pitiful' critics of New Blood show

A war of words erupted yesterday between the advertising mogul and art collector Charles Saatchi and the newspaper critics who described his latest exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery as "irrelevant", "disappointing" and an "aesthetic Titanic".

Mr Saatchi lashed out at writers who derided the New Blood exhibition at County Hall on the South Bank in London, calling them "mindless" and "pitiful".

He claimed his attackers, including Waldemar Januszczak of The Sunday Times and Tom Lubbock of The Independent, were usually "10 years late getting their heads around anything new" and knew "remarkably little about new art".

Mr Saatchi told the Evening Standard, which sponsors New Blood: "It is mindless to dismiss the art I show just because it's me that is showing it. It is pitiful so many critics find it easier to review me than the art. Too many of them ... can't cope without their PC guidebook or a press release and are always, but always, 10 years late getting their heads around anything new.''

The usually reclusive Mr Saatchi, who championed Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and the Chapman Brothers, also said: "It's lucky for me and the artists that normal people seem to enjoy coming to see art that's new and unfamiliar ... and are not thrown into an aesthetic flap by the idiosyncratic setting of County Hall." Some of the artists will be "treated as great international talents" in a decade's time, he added.

Critics responded in kind yesterday, with Mr Januszczak suggesting Mr Saatchi's comments were "further proof he had lost the plot". He added: "'Normal people' obviously must be put off by a lot of things on show there. How couldn't a normal person be put off by something called Spunk Chandelier which shows the metal covered by white funk? I feel sorry for him - he's had an extraordinary impact on British art ... but he made a mistake by buying into that mausoleum in County Hall."

Mr Lubbock said: "Nobody who shows art in the deeply unfavourable environment of County Hall should claim to be art's big friend. As for treating his new batch as 'great international talents' in 10 years' time - want to bet?"

In his review of New Blood, which opened on 24 March, Mr Januszczak wrote: "His new show is an aesthetic Titanic, a momentous capsizing of taste filled with some of the most graceless, puerile and pig-ignorant art."

Mr Lubbock wrote: "It's the sort of art that, if you came across it in an art school would be puzzlingly depressing", while Richard Dorment, of The Daily Telegraph and Brian Sewell, of the Evening Standard, respectively, said the gallery had "begun to feel weirdly irrelevant" and that it was a "disappointing exhibition".

New Blood showcased the works of emerging artists from Britain and abroad. Portraits by Stella Vine of Rachel Whitear, who apparently died of an overdose, and of a bloodied weeping Diana, Princess of Wales caused controversy.

Despite the criticism, in its first 21 days, the show had about 2,650 visitors a day, rivalling attendances at Tate Britain, a statistic not lost on Mr Saatchi.

Yesterday a spokesman for Mr Saatchi said he did not wish to comment further, adding: "I think what's been said is fairly unambiguous."

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