Charles Saatchi's art collection 'remains in limbo'

When Charles Saatchi, the advertising executive extraordinaire and esteemed gallerist, offers his $47.1 million (approximately £30 million) art collection to you, for free, one assumes that there is no hesitation involved. The answer, it goes without saying, is an unreserved yes.
However, two years on from initially proposing that his sublime private collection be kindly gifted to the UK at no cost, it remains, rather bizarrely, stuck in artistic limbo. Generally accepted to be one of the most important amassments of contemporary art, there has been an unfathomable lack of takers.
On the one hand, the Tate galleries have pretty much rejected Saatchi’s offer, a response that has perplexed many within the art world. On the other hand, the government, which welcomed the proposal, has been unable to leverage its political influence on the matter, with the Arts Council insistent that it wanted a say in which works it would like as part of its 7,000 strong collection.
One such individual who is baffled by the matter is the Guardian’s resident art critic Jonathan Jones, who sees real value in Saatchi’s portfolio of works as a barometer of impeccable taste, artistic merit and as something that can be enjoyed by everyone. In addition to that, the benefit to the galleries themselves is not to be underestimated.
“There is plenty in Saatchi’s collection that would surely become a visitor highlight at either Tate Modern or Tate Britain in London, not to mention the Tate galleries in Liverpool and St Ives,” he elaborated.
“Is Tate Britain really so rich in contemporary wonders that it can afford to spurn Saatchi’s collection of Grayson Perry ceramics, or the Chapman brothers’ Tragic Anatomies or Tracey Emin’s My Bed? Emin’s bed caused a sensation at Tate Britain in 1999, when it was exhibited in the artist’s Turner prize show. Why wouldn’t they want it as a permanent exhibit?”
Alas, the question goes begging, although it has been reported that the Tate, which did in fact receive an inventory of the collection, was not inclined to “intervene” in negotiations that were going on between Saatchi and interested parties.
In the meantime, the UK public is being denied a very important addition to its rich and diverse cultural offerings, with Saatchi, an intensely private individual, said to be “extremely disappointed” by what seems to be an unexpected aberration.
What’s certain is that the 69-year-old art wants the 200-strong collection to remain in the UK, so much so that he may even be tempted to break it up, albeit temporarily, and for certain works to be shown in a number of museums and galleries. Given his fondness for well-curated shows, this would be a scenario that he would welcome, especially if the artistic merit of an exhibition was one he could appreciate.
The last thing he wants is for generations of art lovers to be denied something special, and to this end, he has also included in his already benevolent gift, “cover”, which includes insurance, art storage, maintenance and restoration.
Saatchi himself knows all too well the denial of art to the public. Writing earlier this year in the Guardian, he discussed the importance of keeping JMW Turner’s work visible.
“I wonder how Turner would feel now, in an age of mass travel and mass communication, to have his work squirreled away, inaccessible to anyone but scholars,” he queried.
“As an artist who travelled widely himself to paint, he would probably hope that in this day of global fluidity, his work could be accessible to as many people as possible, everywhere. He would also have been proud that he alone had made it possible for his homeland to have the spectacularly good national collection of the world’s modern masterpieces it deserves.”
Cadogan Tate specialises in art transportation, fine art storage and art logistics, helping galleries, museums and collectors manage their collections.