Documents reveal how `demanding' Saatchi dictated show in museum

David Usborne
Wednesday 07 October 2015 14:19

LAWYERS FOR New York's Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, were sifting thousands of internal documents yesterday, including memos and e-mails, submitted to the courts by the Brooklyn Museum of Art, to find evidence supporting claims that the museum conspired with Charles Saatchi to boost the value of his artworks.

Mr Giuliani is trying to shut down public funding to the museum because of its decision to show Sensation, an exhibition of works by young British artists - a number of which the Mayor declared morally offensive. The city has argued that Mr Saatchi was hoping to raise the value of the works. The lawyers noted that another sponsor of the exhibition, which is still open, is the auction house, Christie's.

Nothing in the documents, analysed extensively by the New York Times, seems to support the contention. They do illustrate the control the museum was forced to cede over the exhibition to the British advertising magnate, who donated pounds 100,000 to pay for it.

The museum appears to have underestimated the extent to which Mr Saatchi intended to control every aspect of its presentation. He later dictated every detail, from how the pictures were hung to the positioning of the identifying labels.

The input of Mr Saatchi is mostly defended in memos written by the director of the museum, Arnold Lehman. But even he is at one point driven to remark that the advertising magnate and recluse could become "demanding and opinionated". Dealing with Saatchi, he admitted, did become a "challenge".

The documents also reveal that others at the museum were much angrier. Among them was Kenneth Moser, the main contact with Mr Saatchi. He became furious because as he tried to drive down the budget for the exhibition Mr Saatchi would send it up again. "This is like giving someone your credit card and letting them loose in Harrods," said Mr Moser.

He once urged Mr Lehman to wait until Mr Saatchi had done with his demands, then to strike back. "Once we have all his requests we can draft the first agreement prior to getting any deeper into the pool with the shark.

"I hope this scenario puts BMA a bit closer to the driver's seat - or at least we can all have a hand on the steering wheel."

The documents are fun reading. But the issues are serious, in particular raising the question about the extent to which a publicly funded museum should surrender itself to a collector whose works it is showing.

Many New Yorkers long ago concluded that Mayor Giuliani overreacted, especially when he directed his ire at Chris Ofili's portrait of a black Madonna adorned with clumps of elephant dung.

The mocking of Mr Giuliani reached a new pitch this weekend when about 200 gleeful city dwellers queued in Washington Square Park to throw animal excrement (precise origin unknown) at a portrait of the Mayor depicted, of course, as the Madonna.

For one dollar they got a pair of Latex gloves and one handful.

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