Saatchi

Posted on August 30, 2009
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Valium: Damien Hirst

Here is a rare interview with Charles Saatchi, from The Guardian

Before you went into advertising, what other career did you consider?

“Consider” isn’t quite how it was. At 17 and with two O-levels to show after a couple of attempts, a career path wasn’t realistic, nor a chat with the Christ’s College careers officer, who wouldn’t have recognised me in any event as my absenteeism record was unrivalled. I answered a situations vacant ad in the Evening Standard for a voucher clerk, pay £10 weekly. It was in a tiny advertising agency in Covent Garden, and a voucher clerk had to traipse round all the local newspaper offices in Fleet Street – of which there were hundreds at the time – and pick up back copies of papers in which the agency’s clients had an advert appearing. The voucher clerk’s role was to get the newspaper, find the ad, stick a sticker on it so the client could verify its appearance, and the agency could get paid. Vital work, obviously. One of the advantages of it being a tiny agency was that one day they got desperate when their creative department (one young man) was off sick, and they asked me if I could try and make up an ad for one of their clients, Thornber Chicks. This ad was to appear in Farmer and Stock-Breeder magazine, and hoped to persuade farmers to choose Thornbers, as their chicks would grow to provide many cheap, superior quality eggs and a fine return. I didn’t know how you wrote an ad, or indeed how to write anything much other than “I will not be late for assembly”, for which I had been provided much practice. So I looked through copies of Farmer and Stock-Breeder and Poultry World, chose some inspiring-sounding words and phrases, cobbled them together, stuck on a headline – I think I stole it from an old American advertisement – and produced “Ask the man who owns them” as a testimonial campaign featuring beaming Thornber farmers. The client bought it.

Does a love of art, particularly Renaissance art on a biblical theme, make one feel closer to God?

I believe God must be very disappointed in his handiwork. Mankind has clearly failed to evolve much in all these years; we’re still as cretinous and barbaric as we were many centuries ago, and poor God must spend all day shaking his head at our vileness and general ineptitude. Or perhaps, we might just give him a good laugh. But of course, I hope God likes our art enough to forgive us our sins, particularly mine.

I like the new gallery but hated your gallery in County Hall. What were you thinking!

I was stupid, stupid, stupid. I got bored with knowing my first gallery in Boundary Road too well, so well in fact that I could hang my shows to the centimetre while sitting on a deckchair in Margate. Plus, I wanted to introduce new art to as wide a public as possible, and I went for somewhere with a much bigger footfall on the South Bank next to the London Eye. So I gave up the airy lightness of Boundary Road for small oak-panelled rooms, and nobody liked it. I saw it as a challenge, but one which I clearly wasn’t up to.

Which artists do you display in your own home? Are you constantly changing the works you have there? Is there a core of favourites which stay there?

My house is a mess, but any day now we’ll get round to hanging some of the stacks of pictures sitting on the floor.

Who are the artists you are most pleased with discovering?

Over the years I have been very lucky to see some great artists’ work just at the start of their careers, so that I could feel “pleased with discovering” them. However, I have also “discovered” countless artists who nobody but me seemed to care much for and whose careers have progressed very slowly, if at all. So I certainly don’t have an infallible gift for spotting winners. I think it’s fair to say that I bought Cindy Sherman in her first exhibition in a group show, with some of her black-and-white film stills framed together in those days as a collage of 10 images, and went on to buy much of her work for the next few years. I bought most of the work from Jeff Koons’s first exhibition in a small and now-defunct artist-run gallery in New York’s East Village, which included the basketballs floating in glass aquariums and the Hoovers and other appliances in fluorescent-lit vitrines. But this is getting too self-congratulatory and the truth is I miss out on just as many good artists as I home in on.

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