Iraqi-born British businessman and art collector. In 1970 he was co-founder with his brother Maurice of Saatchi & Saatchi, which became the world’s largest advertising agency. He has devoted much of his enormous wealth to buying contemporary art on a huge scale. In the early years, he bought Minimal art, Neo-Geo, Neo-Expressionism, and a substantial collection of Warhol, including some major early works. While Saatchi’s patronage has been welcomed by many (not least the artists who have benefited from it), others have been critical of the way in which his bulk buying has given him such power in the art market. He is sometimes referred to, usually by detractors, as a dealer rather than a collector, because over the years he has sold much of his collection at a profit. The earliest sustained criticisms of his role came about as a result of an exhibition at the Tate Gallery of Julian Schnabel in 1982. Most of the paintings came from Saatchi’s own collection. Because Saatchi was on the steering committee of the Tate’s Patrons of New Art, there were accusations of improper influence. Since that time there has been a perception that it has been his ambition to make a kind of ‘alternative Tate’. His activities were satirized in a 1985 painting by Hans Haacke, Taking Stock, in which the most famous client of Saatchi as an advertiser, the Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher, is depicted in the style of a Victorian portrait, complete with elaborate classical frame. Cracked plates (an aspect of Schnabel’s ‘signature style’) bear the images of Saatchi and his then wife, Doris.
In 1985 the Saatchi Collection was opened to the public in a new gallery (converted from a warehouse) in St John’s Wood, North London. The premises were relatively difficult of access and only open at weekends: their existence was not obvious to the casual passer-by, and the visitor had to ring for entry, passing through a formidable metal door as though into a maximum security prison. Only a small part of the collection was on view at any time, but a glossy museum-style catalogue, with essays by leading critics, was produced. In 1997 a selection of work by British artists from the Saatchi Collection was loaned to the Royal Academy as an exhibition entitled ‘Sensation’, an event which, more than any other, drew theYoung British Artists, including Hirst, the Chapman brothers, and Taylor-Wood, to the attention of a wide public. Quite apart from the character of the work, which was extremely controversial, there was the question about the enormous influence of a single collector.
The St John’s Wood gallery closed in 2003 and new premises opened at County Hall, the old headquarters of the Greater London Council, a very public venue which was also only a few minutes’ walk from the Hayward Gallery (see Arts Council). A number of important exhibitions were held there, including a whole series entitled ‘The Triumph of Painting’, but the period was also marked by the disastrous fire at the Momart warehouse in 2004, in which much of the collection, alongside many other important works by British artists, was destroyed. Following a legal dispute with the landlord, Saatchi vacated the County Hall premises. A new gallery opened in Chelsea in 2008 with an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art.
Further Reading S. Kent, Shark Infested Waters: The Saatchi Collection of British Art in the 90s (2003)