The Saatchi Gallery is a London gallery for contemporary art, opened by Charles Saatchi in 1985 in order to show his sizeable (and changing) 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, have had distinct phases, starting with US artists and minimalism, moving on to the Damien Hirst-led Young British Artists, followed by shows purely of painting and then exhibiting again 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.
The Saatchi Gallery opened in 1985 in Boundary Road, St John's Wood, London in a disused paint factory of 30,000 sq ft (2787.0912 m2). The first exhibition 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 UK exhibition for Twombly and Marden.
These were followed 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. September 1986 – July 1987 the Saatchi Gallery showed German artist Anselm Kiefer and American minimalist sculptor Richard Serra. The exhibited Richard Serra sculptures were so large that that the caretaker’s flat adjoining the gallery and one wall of the gallery was demolished in order to make room for the installation.
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 UK for the first time. The blend of minimalism and pop art influenced many of the young artists would later form the Young British Artists (YBA) group.
April – October 1988, the Saatchi Gallery exhibited works by American figurative painter Leon Golub, German painter and photographer Sigmar Polke, and American Abstract Expressionist painter Philip Guston. November 1988 – April 1989 it held a group show featuring several contemporary American artists, most prominently Eric Fischl. April – October 1989, the gallery hosted exhibitions of American minimalist Robert Mangold and American conceptual artist Bruce Nauman. November 1989 – February 1990, there were a series of exhibitions featuring School of London artists including Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Howard Hodgkin.
January – July 1991, the gallery held exhibitions of 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 there was a group show, including American photographer Andres Serrano.
In an abrupt move, Saatchi sold much of his collection of US art, and invested in a new generation of British artists, exhibiting them in shows with his own title Young British Artists (YBAs). 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 vitrine by Hirst 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 British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide.
More recently Saatchi has said of Freeze, "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 UK 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 was only finally included in the 1997 Sensation show.)
Sensation opened in September 1997 at the Royal Academy in London 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.
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 artists who were later recognised as 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 Saatchi 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 Britain, 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 programme which provides a lending library of over 3000 original works of art to NHS hospitals, hospices and health centres throughout England, Wales and Ireland in 2002.
In April 2003, the gallery moved to County Hall, the Greater London Council's former headquarters on the South Bank, occupying 40,000 ft² (3,700 m²) of the ground floor. There were 1,000 guests at 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 a serious artwork. The show also scuppered a prospective Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern. He said Saatchi was "childish" 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.")
On 24 May 2004, a fire in the Momart storage warehouse destroyed many works from the collection, including the Tracey Emin work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–95 ("the tent"), and Jake and Dinos Chapman's tableau Hell. A gallery spokesman said that Saatchi was distraught at the loss: "It is terrible. A significant part of the work in his collection has been affected." One art insurance specialist valued the lost work at £50m.
In 2004, Saatchi's recent acquisitions (including Stella Vine) were featured in New Blood, a show of mostly then-little-known artists working in a variety of media. It received a hostile critical reception, which caused Saatchi to speak out angrily against the critics.
Saatchi, said that most YBAs would proved "nothing but footnotes" in history, and sold works from his YBA collection, beginning in December 2004 with Hirst's iconic shark for nearly £7 million (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. Mark Quinn's Self, bought in 1991 for a reported £13,000, sold for £1.5 million. Saatchi also sold all but one work by Sam Taylor-Wood (he showed five in the Sensation show). The sale was compared to his sale in the 1980s of most of his postwar American art collection. David Lee said: "Charles Saatchi has all the hallmarks of being a dealer, not a collector. He first talks up the works and then sells them."
In 2005, Saatchi showed a major change of direction with the announcement of a year-long, three-part series (subsequently extended to two years and seven-part), The Triumph of Painting. The opening exhibition focused on a number of already established European painters, including Marlene Dumas, Martin Kippenberger, Luc Tuymans and Peter Doig, who had not previously received such significant exposure in the UK. Shows in the series were scheduled to introduce Britain to young painters from America like Dana Schutz and Germans such as Matthias Weischer, as well as Saatchi's choice of up and coming British talent.
The gallery received 800,000 visitors a year. In 2006, 1,350 schools organised group visits to the gallery.
The gallery's tenancy of County Hall had ongoing difficulties with Makoto Okamoto, London branch manager of the owners, who Saatchi complained had kicked artworks and sealed off the disabled toilets. On 28 September 2005, the gallery announced they would be moving to new and larger premises in the Duke of York's Headquarters, Chelsea, though Saatchi said it was "tragic" to leave. On 6 October 2005, a court case began, brought by the owners and landlord of County Hall, the Shirayama Shokusan Company and Cadogan Leisure Investments, against Danovo (whose majority shareholder was Charles Saatchi), trading as the Saatchi Gallery, for alleged breach of conditions, including a two-for-one ticket offer in Time Out magazine and exhibition of work in unauthorised areas. The judgement went against the gallery; the judge, Sir Donald Ratee, ordered the gallery to leave the premises because of a "deliberate disregard" of the landlords' rights.
On 8 October 2006, Danovo was forced into liquidation with debts around £1.8 million, having failed to pay the amount ordered by the court to the County Hall landlords.
In 2006 a selection from The Triumph of Painting was exhibited in Leeds Art Gallery and USA Today: New American Art from the Saatchi Gallery opened at the Royal Academy in London. This exhibition toured to The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia in 2007.
On 9 October 2008 the gallery opened its new premises, one of "the most beautiful art spaces in London", in the 70,000-square-foot (6,500 m2) Duke of York's HQ on Kings Road, London, near to 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 show which opened the gallery was of new Chinese art, The Revolution Continues: New Art From China, bringing together the work of twenty-four of China’s young artists in a survey of painting, sculpture and installation. Artists included 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 UCE 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.
Much work in the show relates to political issues surrounding China's Cultural Revolution and also to the wider contemporary political context. The decision to open with The Revolution Continues was directly influenced by global interest in China as a result of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times said it was "the most persuasive showing of contemporary Chinese art yet mounted in this country," and, contrasting it with the "deadly" contemporaneous Turner Prize show, "Saatchi's collection of Chinese art is one that Tate would kill for, and could not begin to afford"; she said that it was "an example of a private museum grand and serious enough to compete with national institutions."
Adrian Searle in The Guardian called the premises "a study in blandness. If not for the art, we might be at a King's Road corporate wellness retreat", and the exhibition "a tiresome kind of entertainment" with work that "says familiar, Saatchi-type things. A giant turd coils on the floor, packed with semi-digested toy soldiers."
Saatchi's goal is to continue to show contemporary work that would otherwise not be seen in big London institutions such as Tate Modern. The gallery's head of development, Rebecca Wilson, said, "The gallery's guiding principle is to show what is being made now, the most interesting artists of today. It's about drawing people's attentions to someone who might be tomorrow's Damien Hirst." The gallery's aim is to make art more accessible to the mainstream, rather than an exclusive artworld pursuit.
1985 – Charles Saatchi opens the 30 000 square foot Saatchi Gallery at Boundary Road, London NW8, featuring many key works by Donald Judd, Brice Marden, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. This was the first UK exhibition for Twombly and Marden.
1986 – The Saatchi Gallery exhibits works by Anselm Kiefer and Richard Serra. The caretaker’s flat and one wall of the gallery was demolished in order to allow the installation of large Serra sculptures.
1987 – The New York Art Now show introduces artists including Jeff Koons, Robert Gober, Ashley Bickerton, Carroll Dunham and Phillip Taaffe for the first time to the UK. The blend of minimalism and pop art has a profound influence on British art students.
1992 – The Saatchi Gallery curates its first in a series of shows entitled Young British Artists introducing the term “YBA” for this generation of artists. Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread, Gavin Turk, Glenn Brown, Sarah Lucas, Jenny Saville and Gary Hume were all presented to a wider public in these shows.
1997 – Sensation: Young British Art from the Saatchi Gallery opens at the Royal Academy of Arts featuring 42 artists including The Chapman Brothers, Marcus Harvey, Damien Hirst, Ron Mueck, Jenny Saville, Sarah Lucas & Tracey Emin. Sensation attracted over 300 000 visitors, a record breaking attendance for a contemporary art exhibition.
1999 – Sensation travels to The National Galerie at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin in the autumn, breaking attendance records.
1999 – Sensation tours to Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, creating unprecedented political and media controversy and becoming a touchstone for debate about the “morality” of contemporary art. This exhibition also broke attendance records at the museum.
1999 – The Saatchi Gallery donates one hundred artworks to the Arts Council of Great Britain Collection, which operates a ‘lending library’ to museums and galleries around Britain, with the aim of increasing awareness and promoting interest in younger artists.
2000 – The Gallery donates 40 works by young British artists through the National Arts Collection Fund to eight museum collections across Britain.
2000 – The Gallery begins a series of one person shows of major international figures who have been largely unseen in Britain, including Duane Hanson, Boris Mikhailov and Alex Katz. Shows entitled Young Americans and Eurovision introduce a number of artists to the UK including John Currin, Andreas Gursky, Charles Ray, Richard Prince, Rineke Dijkstra, Lisa Yuskavage and Elizabeth Peyton.
2001 – I am a Camera exhibition opens at the Gallery, an exhibition of photography and other related works where traditional boundaries are blurred as photographs influence paintings, and paintings influence photographs. The show included work by many artists who had never exhibited before in the UK.
2002 – The Gallery donates 50 artworks to the Paintings in Hospitals programme which provides a lending library of over 3 000 original works of art to NHS hospitals, hospices and health centres throughout England, Wales and Ireland.
2003 – The Saatchi Gallery moved to County Hall, the Greater London Council’s former headquarters on the South Bank, creating a 40 000 square foot exhibition space. The opening show included a retrospective by Damien Hirst as well as works by other YBAs such as the Chapman Brothers, Tracey Emin, Jenny Saville and Sarah Lucas. There were 1,000 guests at the launch, which included a "nude happening" of 200 naked people staged by artist Spencer Tunick.
2004 – A fire in the Momart storage warehouse destroyed many works from the collection, including the major Tracey Emin work Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–95 ("the tent"), and Jake and Dinos Chapman's tableau Hell.
2005 – The Saatchi Gallery launches a year-long, three-part series exhibition, The Triumph of Painting. The opening exhibition focuses on a number of influential European painters, Marlene Dumas, Martin Kippenberger, Luc Tuymans, Peter Doig, Jörg Immendorff, and followed with younger painters including Albert Oehlen, Wilhelm Sasnal and Thomas Scheibitz.
2005 – A selection of works from The Triumph of Painting was exhibited in Leeds Art Gallery
2006 -– During the period in between premises, the Saatchi Gallery website began an open-access section where artists could upload works of art and a biography onto their own pages. The site currently has over 100 000 artist’s profiles and receives over 68 million hits a day, and is ranked at 316 in the Alexa Top 50 000 World Websites.
2006 – The Saatchi Gallery in association with the Guardian newspaper opened the first ever reader-curated exhibition, showing the work of 10 artists registered on Saatchi Online. In November the Saatchi Gallery launched a new site within Saatchi Online exclusively for art students, called Stuart. Art students from all over the world were able to create their own home pages with images of their art, photos, lists of their favourite artists, books, films and television shows, and links to their friends' home pages. The site also allows students to chat online with each other, enabling art students across the globe to talk and exchange ideas about their art work. Other sections on Saatchi Online include; a daily art magazine, a forum, written and video blogs, as well as sections for street art, photography and illustration.
2006 – USA Today: New American Art from the Saatchi Gallery opens at the Royal Academy in London
2007 – A new feature was added to Saatchi Online at the beginning of 2007 called "Museums around the World" where over 2 800 museums can now be found online, showing highlights of their collections, exhibitions and other relevant information. 2 700 Colleges and Universities from around the world also include their profiles, enabling potential students to examine their prospectuses.
2008 – The Saatchi Gallery reopens on the 9th of October in the entire 70,000 square feet (6,500 m2) Duke of York's Headquarters building on Kings Road in Chelsea, London. The inaugural exhibition is The Revolution Continues: New Art from China, bringing together the work of 24 of China’s leading young artists in a wide reaching survey of recent painting, sculpture and installation.
In 2006, during the period in limbo between premises, the Saatchi Gallery website began an open-access section, including Your Gallery, where artists can upload up to twenty works of art and a biography onto their own page. Over 100,000 artists have done so, and the site receives an estimated 73 million hits a day. Your Gallery was later rebranded as Saatchi Online. In September 2008, Alexa Internet ranked Saatchi Gallery amongst the leading 300 websites in the world. In November 2007 it was estimated that the professional artists registered on the website sell over $100 million of art directly from the site annually. In 2008 Saatchi Online launched a saleroom section that hosts over 84,000 entries from artists wishing to sell their work. The site takes no commission from either buyer or seller.
In October 2006 the Saatchi Gallery in association with The Guardian newspaper opened the first ever reader-curated exhibition, showing the work of 10 artists registered on Saatchi Online; users also have the opportunity to be featured in the Saatchi Online stall at various art fairs. In November 2006 the Saatchi Gallery launched a new site within Saatchi Online exclusively for art students, called Stuart, which includes online chat rooms. An annual competition, 4 New Sensations, in association with Channel 4, is run via the Stuart section of the site.
There are other spaces on Saatchi Online for meeting new people, a forum, live chat, blogs, videos, photography and illustration. The site also publishes grant and funding opportunities for artists. A daily art magazine features 24 hour art news updated every 15 minutes, as well as articles and reviews by well known art critics such as Jerry Saltz and Matthew Collings. The site recently began broadcasting an online television channel which gives visitors video access to art openings, artists' studios, performances and interviews.
Interactive features include the weekly Showdown competition, where users can win a place in an exhibition in the Gallery, the Online Studio which allows visitors to create art on the website (each month a critic selects a winner in whose name a £500 donation is made to a children's charity, a Crits section in which artists can comment on each others' work, and the Street Art section for graffiti, murals, and performance art.
"Museums around the World" displays over 3300 museums with highlights of their collections, and other relevant information. These include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Tate, the London National Gallery, the Louvre, and the State Hermitage, as well as small museums.
As of July 2008, 4,300 art dealers and commercial galleries have put their profiles on the site. Over 2,800 universities and colleges have uploaded their prospectuses and student information on the site: these include Yale, Harvard, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, as well as local art colleges. Over 1,500 schools have uploaded up pupils’ art work. Schools range from Eton College to small Primary and High schools. The Portfolio School Art Prize  is open to schools with pupils aged between 5 and 17.
A Mandarin language version of the site allows Chinese artists to upload their profiles in Chinese and to be read in English. There is also a Chinese language chatroom, forum, and blog. The site provides automated translations in most of the world’s leading languages; Russian, Spanish and Portuguese versions of the site are planned.