The Trouble With Saatchi – A Controversial Piece.
Most of my posts have been about art that is inspiring and visually gorgeous; but every now and then I feel the need to look at the other side of the coin. So the story today begins with ex-advertising moghul turned art collector, Charles Saatchi. He has been, over the last two decades, one of the most influential art collectors in the world, and certainly the most important in Britain. He has, through the artists he has chosen to patronise, shaped the way the art world looks today. It is he who was behind the rise of Brit Art, or the YBAs (Young British Artists) – of course they are not so young anymore- but still dominating the scene. The group includes Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, the Chapman brothers, Mat Collishaw, Sarah Lucas, Rachael Whiteread and Angus Fairhurst. Since the YBAs, other artists have followed suit, rising to prominence, such as Martin Creed. Would Martin Creed have received acclaim had he not come after the likes of the afore mentioned artists? probably not. His masterpieces include a piece of blue tack on a wall, a light switching on and off, and a piece of paper crunched up and rolled into a ball (I still remember seeing this ‘work’ in the Arnolfini in Bristol, proving that it is memorable, though not for the right reasons!) Creed’s work is not humorous like Duchamp’s. It is just utterly, mind numbingly stupid. What is worse though, is that his art is displayed in Britain’s most prestigious galleries! This begs the question, why? Perhaps it has something to do with Saatchi. That he helps out young, struggling artists is a good thing. The issue is that he is in a powerful position, thus one that comes with responsibility. Therefore, I think it a shame that, with the same lack of conscience that is required to become an advertising moghul, he buys art. His discretion is missing. Like the media, he provokes by choosing works that shock, that have that sensational element, that are needlessly perverse. Anything goes, as long as it fulfils the above requirements. (To be fair he has found some good pieces). This trend is now filtering into to schools and art colleges – unless it is a political message they are conveying, then students must produce art that shocks, or repels, or defies all prior ideas of art (re-blue tack) if they hope to make it. I feel that this limited criteria kills creativity rather than instigates it. This is a sad state of affairs.
On the positive side, Saatchi has made some good moves. His Saatchi Gallery website includes a page which any artist can use to sell their work on, commission free. Lately, too, he has turned to buying art from other regions of the world. Thus, the British public have been introduced to contemporary art from India, China, America, and the Islamic countries. Saatchi has managed to source some interesting works from the East. Over the last twenty years in Britain, the concept has come to dominate the visual, to the point that much art has become entirely elitist and mundane, therefore it is refreshing to see that there is still more of a balance between the concept and the visual in other areas of the world.
In a sense, the art that has come out of Britain in the last two decades was a by-product of the economic boom and the religion of materialism. Take for example Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull. It was made not long before the credit crunch and seems to me to be the perfect illustration of society and of the art world in recent years. It very neatly suggests that materialism is a dead matter, it has no essence, no necessity and no meaning.
Damien Hirst rose to fame with his dead animals preserved in formaldehyde. They make some reference, apparently, to the fact that man wants to separate himself from what he eats. The wealth that Damien Hirst has accumulated can probably rival that of Saatchi’s. This may sound cynical, but watching Hirst speaking in interviews and so on, I can’t help feeling that he is having a good old laugh at today’s society, and especially at the galleries and the individuals that buy his art. He has cornered the market and is now laughing all the way to the bank.
Rachael Whiteread began her career in quite an unusual way. She shot to fame with this haunting, inside out house which is made from solid concrete. It is chilling and an interesting concept.
Creed: light switching on and off…
Creed: crunched up ball of paper. (Creed’s imagination doesn’t even stretch so far as to try and create ‘concepts’ behind his work, it simply is what it is!)