Lecture : 16 May 2007 01:01

Kunst and Kapital : Kunst and Kapital #2: Chin-tao Wu

Chin-tao Wu's Statement on the Presentation:

Both YBA (young British artists) and Charles Saatchi have for the last decade or so been buzzwords continually on the lips of the chattering classes who so eloquently talk up the contemporary art scene in the U.K. But what's in a name? Saatchi's has the advantage of covering an unusually wide and varied spectrum: collector, dealer, curator, publicist, self-publicist, trend-setter, aesthete, and power broker. After a decade of successfully branding and promoting a whole generation of young British artists, Charles Saatchi has transformed himself not only into a quintessentially British brand, but even, by now, into an institution. The extent to which Saatchi is able to exert power over the contemporary British art world is tellingly revealed by the fact that, when he opened his new gallery in London's County Hall in 2003, within walking distance of Tate Modern, both the Saatchi Gallery and the man himself were perceived as direct challenges to the hugely successful Tate Modern and its godfather/director, Sir Nicholas Serota.

When it came recently to celebrating the twentieth anniversary of his collecting career, it is significant that Saatchi chose to give the grandiloquent title of The Triumph of Painting to the series of three exhibitions he organised for 2005. This is a move that is both prospective and retrospective. My paper sets out to investigate some of the reasons why this advertising-executive-turned- dealer/collector, having built himself an international reputation as a patron of cutting-edge art, of shock and sensation, was now turning to traditional painting on canvas as the new love of his life. By looking into his commercial strategies, his manipulation of the art market, and the careers of some of the artists he has patronised, the paper will attempt to answer the question Why Be a Saatchi?, and offer an explanation of why painting should now have come to play so prominent a role in the professional activities of the U. K.'s leading contemporary art collector.