Saatchi Gallery in London

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The Saatchi Gallery is a London gallery for contemporary art, opened by Charles Saatchi in 1985 in order to exhibit his collection to the public. It has occupied different premises, first in North London, then the South Bank by the River Thames and currently in Chelsea. Saatchi's collection, and hence the gallery's shows, has had distinct phases, starting with U.S. artists and minimalism, moving to the Damien Hirst-led Young British Artists, followed by shows purely of painting and then returning to contemporary art from America in USA Today at the Royal Academy in London. In 2008, an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art formed the inaugural exhibition in the new venue for the gallery at the Duke of York's HQ.

The gallery has been a major influence on art in Britain since its opening. It has also had a history of media controversy, which it has courted, and has had extremes of critical reaction. Many artists shown at the gallery are unknown not only to the general public but also to the commercial art world: showing at the gallery has provided a springboard to launch careers.

In 2010, it was announced that the gallery would be given to the British public, becoming the Museum of Contemporary Art for London.


Boundary Road

Opening and US art

The Saatchi Gallery opened in 1985 in Boundary Road, St John's Wood, London in a disused paint factory of 30000 sqft. The first exhibition was held March—October 1985 featured many works by American minimalist Donald Judd, American abstract painters Brice Marden and Cy Twombly and American pop artist Andy Warhol. This was the first U.K. exhibition for Twombly and Marden.

These were followed throughout December 1985 – July 1986 by an exhibition of works by American sculptor John Chamberlain, American minimalists Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, Frank Stella, and Carl Andre. During September 1986 – July 1987, the gallery exhibited German artist Anselm Kiefer and American minimalist sculptor Richard Serra. The exhibited Serra sculptures were so large that the caretaker's flat adjoining the gallery was demolished to make room for them.

From September 1987 – January 1988, the Saatchi Gallery mounted two exhibitions entitled New York Art Now, featuring Jeff Koons, Robert Gober, Peter Halley, Haim Steinbach, Philip Taaffe and Caroll Dunham. This exhibition introduced these artists to the U.K. for the first time. The blend of minimalism and pop art influenced many young artists who would later form the Young British Artists (YBA) group.

April – October 1988 featured exhibited works by American figurative painter Leon Golub, German painter and photographer Sigmar Polke, and American Abstract Expressionist painter Philip Guston. During November 1988 – April 1989 a group show featured contemporary American artists, most prominently Eric Fischl. From April – October, the gallery hosted exhibitions of American minimalist Robert Mangold and American conceptual artist Bruce Nauman. From November 1989 – February 1990, a series of exhibitions featured School of London artists including Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Howard Hodgkin.

During January – July 1991, the gallery exhibited the work of American pop artist Richard Artschwager, American photographer Cindy Sherman, and British installation artist Richard Wilson. Wilson’s piece 20:50, a room entirely filled with oil, became a permanent installation at the Saatchi Gallery’s Boundary Road venue. September 1991 – February 1992 featured a group show, including American photographer Andres Serrano.

Young British Artists

In an abrupt move, Saatchi sold much of his collection of U.S. art, and invested in a new generation of British artists, exhibiting them in shows with the title Young British Artists. The core of the artists had been brought together by Damien Hirst in 1988 in a seminal show called Freeze. Saatchi augmented this with his own choice of purchases from art colleges and "alternative" artist-run spaces in London. His first showing of the YBAs was in 1992, where the star exhibit was a Hirst vitrine containing a shark in formaldehyde and entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. This was funded by Saatchi. It has become the iconic work of 1990s British art, and the symbol of Britart worldwide.

More recently Saatchi said, "It’s not that Freeze, the 1988 exhibition that Damien Hirst organised with this fellow Goldsmiths College students, was particularly good. Much of the art was fairly so-so and Hirst himself hadn’t made anything much just a cluster of small colourful cardboard boxes placed high on a wall. What really stood out was the hopeful swagger of it all."

Saatchi's promotion of these artists dominated local art throughout the nineties and brought them to worldwide notice. Among the artists in the series of shows were Jenny Saville, Sarah Lucas, Gavin Turk, Jake and Dinos Chapman and Rachel Whiteread. (Tracey Emin was initially hostile to Saatchi and only relented for the 1997 Sensation show.)

Sensation opened in September at the Royal Academy to much controversy and showed 110 works by 42 artists from the Saatchi collection. In 1999 Sensation toured to The National Galerie at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin in the autumn, and then to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, creating unprecedented political and media controversy and becoming a touchstone for debate about the "morality" of contemporary art.

Neurotic Realism and philanthropy

Meanwhile other shows with different themes were held in the gallery itself. In 1998 Saatchi launched a two part exhibition entitled Neurotic Realism. Though widely attacked by critics, the exhibition included many future international stars including; Cecily Brown, Ron Mueck, Noble and Webster, Dexter Dalwood, Martin Maloney, Chantal Joffe, Michael Raedecker and David Thorpe. In 2000 Ant Noises (an anagram of "sensation"), also in two parts, tried surer ground with work by Hirst, Lucas, Saville, Whiteread, the Chapmans, Turk, Emin and Chris Ofili.

During this period the Collection was based at '30 Underwood St' an artist Collective of 50 studios and four galleries, the gallery made several large philanthropic donations including 100 artworks in 1999 to the Arts Council of Great Britain Collection, which operates a "lending library" to museums and galleries around the country, with the aim of increasing awareness and promoting interest in younger artists; 40 works by young British artists through the National Arts Collection Fund, now known as The Art Fund, to eight museum collections across Britain in 2000; and 50 artworks to the Paintings in Hospitals program which provides a lending library of over 3,000 original works of art to NHS hospitals, hospices and health centers throughout England, Wales and Ireland in 2002.

County Hall

In April 2003, the gallery moved to County Hall, the Greater London Council's former headquarters on the South Bank, occupying 40000 sqft of the ground floor. 1,000 guests attended the launch, which included a "nude happening" of 200 naked people staged by artist Spencer Tunick.

The opening exhibition included a retrospective by Damien Hirst, as well as work by other YBAs, such as Jake and Dinos Chapman and Tracey Emin alongside some longer-established artists including John Bratby, Paula Rego and Patrick Caulfield.

Hirst disassociated himself from the retrospective to the extent of not including it in his CV. He was angry that a Mini car that he had decorated for charity with his trademark spots was being exhibited as serious work. and "I'm not Charles Saatchi's barrel-organ monkey ... He only recognises art with his wallet ... he believes he can affect art values with buying power, and he still believes he can do it." (In July 2004, Hirst said, "I respect Charles. There's not really a feud. If I see him, we speak, but we were never really drinking buddies.") (he had bought it for £50,000 in 1991), followed by at least twelve other works by Hirst. Four works by Ron Mueck, including key works Pinocchio and Dead Dad, went for an estimated £2.5 million. in the 70000 sqft Duke of York's HQ on Kings Road, London, near Sloane Square. The building was refurbished by architects Paul Davis + Partners and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. It consists of 15 equally-proportioned exhibition spaces "as light, as high, and as beautifully proportioned as any in London".

The gallery is the only completely free-entry contemporary art museum of its size in the world. Free entry is enabled by the gallery's partnership with contemporary art auction house Phillips de Pury & Company.

The main opening exhibition was of new Chinese art, The Revolution Continues: New Art From China, bringing together the work of twenty-four young Chinese artists in a survey of painting, sculpture and installation, including Zhang Huan, Li Songsong, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Haiying and conceptual artists Sun Yuan & Peng Yu. An accompanying book included an essay by Jiang Jiehong, director of the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. The show exemplified Saatchi's predeliction for the "rude, sensational and epigrammatic", including a "big fairground attraction" of thirteen realistic life-size figures of world leaders colliding with each other in moving electric wheelchairs. Saatchi said that the matter only became an issue because Chia "had a psychological need to be rejected in public" and is now "most famous for being dumped", but that he had only ever owned seven Chia's, which he sold back to Chia's two dealers, who re-sold them easily to museums or notable collectors.

  • The Sensation show in New York offended Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, because of Chris Ofili's painting, Holy Virgin Mary, which incorporates elephant dung. William A Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said the work "induces revulsion". The paper also carried a petition in support signed by 106 creatives, including Susan Sarandon, Steve Martin, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Kurt Vonnegut and Susan Sontag, saying that the mayor "blatantly disregards constitutional protection for freedom of the arts."
  • Sensation was scheduled to open in June 1999 at the National Gallery of Australia, but was canceled. Director Brian Kennedy said that, although it was due to be funded by the Australian government, it was "too close to the market", since finance for the Brooklyn exhibition included $160,000 from Saatchi, who owned the work, $50,000 from Christie's, who had sold work for Saatchi, and $10,000 from dealers of many of the artists.<ref name=vogeloz/> Kennedy said he was unaware of this when he accepted the show; Saatchi's contribution, the largest single one, was not disclosed by the Brooklyn Museum until it appeared in court documents.<ref name=vogeloz/> When the show opened in London at the Royal Academy, there had been criticisms that it would raise the value of the work.<ref name=vogeloz/>
  • In 2004, media controversy arose over two paintings by Stella Vine. One was of Princess Diana called Hi Paul Can You Come Over, showing the Princess with blood dripping from her lips. The other was of drug user Rachel Whitear, whose body was being exhumed at the time; Whitear's parents and the police appealed for the painting to be withdrawn, but it was not.
  • In 2004, the Stuckists reported Saatchi to the Office of Fair Trading alleging unfair competition. The complaint was not upheld. They also picketed the opening of The Triumph of Painting claiming that Saatchi had stolen their ideas. (Vine had previously been involved with the Stuckists.)
  • In 2006, "USA Today" provoked controversy in the media and among some Royal Academicians who called for certain works to be installed in an 'adult-only' room. A notice advising 'parental guidance' before viewing the work of Dash Snow and Gerald Davis was posted by the Royal Academy, on a wall outside the room in which the controversial works were hung. These were Dash Snow's 'Fuck the Police', in which newspaper cuttings relating to police corruption are smeared with the artist's own semen, and a painting titled Monica by Gerald Davis in which a young woman engages in fellatio.

Artists shown at the Saatchi Gallery

Boundary Road


  • Donald Judd
  • Brice Marden
  • Cy Twombly
  • Andy Warhol


  • Carl Andre
  • Sol LeWitt
  • Robert Ryman
  • Frank Stella
  • Dan Flavin


  • Anselm Kiefer
  • Richard Serra
  • Jeff Koons
  • Robert Gober
  • Philip Taaffe
  • Carroll Dunham


  • Leon Golub
  • Philip Guston
  • Sigmar Polke


  • Robert Mangold
  • Bruce Nauman


  • Leon Kossoff
  • Frank Auerbach
  • Lucian Freud


  • Richard Artschwager
  • Andreas Serrano
  • Cindy Sherman


  • Damien Hirst
  • Rachel Whiteread


  • Sarah Lucas
  • Marc Quinn


  • Jenny Saville
  • Paula Rego


  • Gavin Turk
  • Glenn Brown
  • Gary Hume


  • Janine Antoni
  • Tony Oursler
  • Richard Prince
  • Charles Ray
  • Kiki Smith
  • Stephan Balkenhol


  • Duane Hanson
  • Andreas Gursky
  • Martin Honert
  • Thomas Ruff
  • Thomas Schütte


  • David Salle
  • Jessica Stockholder
  • Terry Winters
  • John Currin
  • Tom Friedman
  • Josiah McElheny
  • Laura Owens
  • Elizabeth Peyton
  • Lisa Yuskavage


  • Alex Katz
  • Martin Maloney
  • Dexter Dalwood
  • Ron Mueck
  • Cecily Brown
  • Noble and Webster
  • Michael Raedecker


  • Boris Mikhailov

County Hall
  • Damien Hirst
  • The Chapman Brothers
  • New Blood
  • Galleon & Other Stories
  • The Triumph of Painting
Duke of York's HQ
  • The Revolution Continues: New Art From China


  • Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East
  • The Triumph of Painting
  • Out Of Focus: Photography Now
  • The Power Of Paper


  • The Revolution Continues: New Art From China
  • Sarah Kent, "Shark Infested Waters: The Saatchi Collection of British Art in the 90s", Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 2003, .
  • Rita Hatton and John A. Walker, "Supercollector, a Critique of Charles Saatchi", The Institute of Artology, 3rd edition 2005, paperback,
  • USA Today
  • The Triumph Of Painting
  • The Triumph Of Painting, Supplementary Volume
  • The Triumph Of Painting, Supplementary Volume
  • 100 The Work That Changed British Art
  • Hell, Jake & Dinos Chapman
  • Paula Rego
  • Young Americans
  • Stephan Balkenhol
  • Fiona Rae & Gary Hume
  • Duane Hanson
  • Shark Infested Waters, The Saatchi Collection Of British Art In The 90's
  • Young German Artists 2
  • Sensation
  • Alex Katz: 25 Years Of Painting
  • Young Americans 2
  • Neurotic Realism
  • Eurovision
  • Ant Noises 1
  • Ant Noises 2
  • The Arts Council Gift
  • I Am A Camera
  • New Labour
  • Young British Art
  • Saatchi Decade
  • Boris Mikhailov: Case History
  • Damien Hirst

Notes and references

External links