Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Name is Charles Saatchi

Anyone in the art world today would like to listen from the enigmatic Charles Saatchi. When he speaks, he leaves more room for speculation than directly answering your question. It happened when he said, Sandro Chia will be remembered for him being dumped by Charles Saatchi. Not too many people dared to question his stance, which is both arrogance and self confidence.

Saatchi says that he collects art to show off. Also he says, ‘art collectors are pretty insignificant in the scheme of things.’ That too is self confidence. This confidence comes from his constant engagement with art. He started collecting art at the age of thirteen. However, at that time his collection mostly comprised of the cover pages of a nudist magazine, ‘Health and Efficiency’. The passion for collecting nude pictures continued till his mother found out her son’s deranged sense of aesthetics and confiscated the magazines.

An art connoisseur who never attends the openings of the shows in his own gallery and other galleries, till recently kept himself away from the press, leaving space for speculations and more speculations about his taste. I remember reading about Saatchi and his hold on the western art world in 2002. It was exactly after five years of his trail blazer show, Sensations in 1997. In Sensations, he had found out the talent of the then struggling artists like Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin and so on.

In 2002, it was very difficult to get a quote from Saatchi. So the book I read was all about others’ views on him; how Saatchi became an advertising world baron and an art collector; his manipulations of British politics and human desire through his advertising skills. Saatchi has a political side of him, which he never wants to reveal. Instead, he tells he would cheer the Iraqi team if it is playing cricket against the English team.

Though paparazzi don’t have enough pictures of Saatchi to fill in the textual gaps, in the available photographs Saatchi looks like a man who never smiles. Saatchi has something to explain on this front. He says that only those people who have little sense of humor laughs out before a joke is cracked, which means he has a thorough sense of humor, which can be tickled only by intelligent humor.

When Saatchi opened the Saatchi galleries website for the unknown and semi-known artists all over the world to post their works and bio-data for free, we could get some glimpses of the Saatchi Speak. An elaborate interview of Saatchi was made available two years back through this website.

Today, Saatchi does not want to keep himself out of the discourse regarding art, aesthetics and its market. Also he thinks it to be fair to spill some beans about his personal life. That’s what we get to see in a collection of Saatchi interviews published by Phaidon. Published in 2009, this book is a sort of repartee between the intelligent readers of several leading British newspapers and the man of the hour, Charles Saatchi.

Anybody would like to buy this book as it is printed in large fonts and pepped up with discreet pictures. It happened in the international book fair 2010 in Delhi. I saw several people picking up this book from the stalls. I wanted to do so. But my debit card was playing pranks with the card machines in the stalls. I had already bought a few books with the cash I had in my pocket.

Hence, it was a pleasure to see the book again at the bookshop of the Gallery BMB, Mumbai. I was there with six other artist-friends from Delhi. We were browsing through the books and at the cash counter, to our common surprise, we all found that we were buying the same book; ‘My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic’.

The timing was perfect. ‘My Name is Khan’, a film by Karan Johar with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead role has already been declared a major box office hit after a stinking controversy. The book and the film have something common in their title. They both publicly pronounce their name with a lot of clarity.

Metaphoric it could be as ‘Khan’ shows the Muslim identity, which is considerably defiled these days and ‘Saatchi’ shows the Jewish identity, which is defied by the Muslim extremists for its connection to Israel, a nation they dislike. Both Khan and Saatchi do not shy away from their respective identities. While Khan is questioned for his patriotism, Saatchi is questioned for not including Israeli artists in his show on the contemporary art of the Middle East. Irony rules the lives of movers and shakers.

This book is like a book of maxims. Saatchi says so many things that are quite unpalatable. But behind any sour statement there is a hard truth, which cannot be avoided. One may question the aesthetic discretion of Saatchi as the way Adrian Searle of The Guardian questioned his recent Empire Strikes back show, which featured his collection of Indian contemporary art. But then Saatchi is not new to this. He collects for his pleasure and to show off.

Here are some quotes from Saatchi, which might interest the readers of this blog:

‘Without being too callous, many artists achieve iconic status by dying before their work has a chance to dwindle into stale repetition.’

‘By and large talent is in such short supply, mediocrity can be taken for brilliance rather more than genius can go undiscovered.’

‘Trying to be charming is self indulgent; allowing oneself to be charmed is simply good manners.’

‘Unlike many of the art world heavy hitters and deep thinkers, I don’t believe painting is middle-class and bourgeois, incapable of saying anything meaningful anymore, too impotent to hold much sway. For me, and for people with good eyes who actually enjoy looking at art, nothing is as uplifting as standing before a great painting, whether it was painted in 1505 or last Tuesday.’

‘I don’t by art to ingratiate myself with artists or socialize in the art world. Most of the artists I meet are rather like everybody else you meet: some are nicer than others.’

‘If you asked the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi if they had ever taken advantage of anyone, they would be lying if they claimed they hadn’t. So you can put me right up there with them, thanks.’

‘I don’t play art Olympics. I don’t have a top ten artists or a top ten favorite works bobbing around in my head.’


usha ramachandran said...

I really liked this.(Thanks Johny Sir for giving us a peep into the book.)!:).

artcircle said...

why should we be overly impressed by gimmicky statements of a self indulgent man who is good only at advertising ?
someone who was anglo saxon cocky enough to call india an empire in his last show...?!

and may i add definitely lacks the charisma or intelligence of khan ;)

vijay r said...

Very well expressed article
Thanks for enlighting us on this book