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The Saatchi Divorce Has Ripple Effects on London’s Art Scene

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This week it was announced art collector Charles Saatchi plans to sell around 50 of his large-scale art works by modern British artists, and to do so in a highly innovative way. They are due to be auctioned by Christie’s London on 17 October after a week-long exhibition in a cavernous former postal sorting station in central London (12-15 October).

Charles Saatchi, co-founder with his brother Maurice of global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, and his celebrity chef wife Nigella Lawson divorced last month in the aftermath of a, now notorious, apparent choking incident in full view at a London restaurant.


Saatchi founded the Saatchi Gallery originally to house his own art collections. Currently housed on the Kings Road with space in a superb 212 year-old building known as the Duke of York’s Headquarters, the Saatchi Gallery has also specialized in presenting exhibitions of modern British artists, many of them previously unknown.

The Gallery provides free admission to all of its shows – including temporary, curated exhibitions, as part of the gallery’s aim to bring contemporary art to the widest audience possible, and to help remove the stigma of elitism from modern art. It also includes a dedicated space for “Saatchi Online” artists to exhibit and sell their work commission free. The space features a rotating selection of winning artists chosen from Saatchi Online Magazine’s weekly critics’ picks and Showdown competition.


The exhibition preceding the art sale will be called “Thinking Big” and it will take place as an unusual form of art auction in that prospective buyers will find there are no estimates or reserves for the sculptures and installations being auctioned. The works to be sold include works by artists such as Tracey Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Sterling Ruby, Berlinde De Bruyckere and David Altmejd among others, according to a Christie’s statement.

A spokesperson for the Saatchi Gallery says that proceeds from the sale will go towards maintaining free entry to the institution in Chelsea and funding its education work. School groups are also not charged and most of the gallery’s education workshops are free.

Exhibits at Saatchi Gallery – photograph source Saatchi Gallery

The head of Christie’s post-war and contemporary European art, Francis Outred, said in a statement that Christie’s had been working with Saatchi Gallery “for about a year” on developing plans for the “Thinking Big” auction.

More cynical speculation going the rounds has it that Mr Saatchi might be seeking to rebuld his personal reputation in the wake of accepting a police caution for assaulting his wife, Nigella Lawson, in June, in the events leading up to their divorce.

However, Charles Saatchi is a well known benefactor and as long ago as three years ago he announced plans to eventually donate the Saatchi Gallery, then containing 200 works of art worth and possibly worth as much as US$40 million at the time, to the British public. However, talks with the government at the time basically went nowhere, with issues likely including the fact that the Saatchi Gallery only leases its space at the former Duke of York’s headquarters rather than owning it.

Saatchi announced at the time that the 70, 000 sq ft gallery, home to pieces by Tracey Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman, would ultimately be renamed the “Museum of Contemporary Art”, and remain permanently open free to the public when he retires.


Hence this week’s announcement of a sale of some of the important works from his collection is consistent with this, and indeed may offer a mechanism for securing the endowments enabling the long term plan for the future to be carried out.

If you go to the Saatchi Gallery website,, you will immediately be greeted by a very proud animated banner stating that in the last four years Saatchi Gallery actually was responsible for 10 of the 15 most visited museum exhibitions in London. The source for the statistical claim is: The Art Newspaper’s Survey of Museum Attendance 2013. That this was achieved despite what must be some pretty stiff competition is highly commendable – London is after all a very great metropolis, and not at all short of excellent art institutions and museums all with vibrant activity going on all year round.


About The Saatchi Gallery

The gallery aims to provide an innovative forum for contemporary art, presenting work by largely unseen young artists or by international artists whose work has been rarely or never exhibited in the UK.

The audience for exhibitions of contemporary art has increased widely during the recent years as general awareness and interest in contemporary art has developed both in Britain and abroad.

The Saatchi Gallery Launches At County Hall

When The Saatchi Gallery first opened over twenty five years ago it was only those who had a dedicated interest in contemporary art who sought out the gallery to see work by new artists. The audience, however, built steadily over the years and by the time the gallery left its second home at County Hall, and eventually moving to the Kings Road, visitor numbers already reached 600, 000 per annum, with over 1, 000 schools organising student visits.

Many artists showing at The Saatchi Gallery are completely unknown when they are first exhibited, not only to the general public but also to the commercial art world. Many of these artists are subsequently offered shows by galleries and museums internationally. In this way, the gallery helps operate as a springboard for young artists to launch their careers.



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