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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

Saatchi Gallery, London: A Brief History

What is Saatchi Gallery?

Saatchi Gallery is a leading contemporary art gallery housing both permanent and visiting international collections of sculpture and art.

Saatchi gallery

The Saatchi is a contemporary art gallery situated in the affluent borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It’s to be found near the top of the famous King’s Road, once the haunt of mods and punks and now a smart shopping street. Since 2005, the gallery has been housed in the Duke of York’s Headquarters. This grandiose building, with its high ceilings, good light and spacious white rooms, offers the ideal environment in which to view contemporary art.

A History of Saatchi Gallery

Charles Saatchi has been an avid art collector for his entire adult life, and he certainly has quite an eye. In 1970, he opened the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency with his brother, using its huge success to fund his collecting habit. In 1985, at the height of the company’s earning power, Saatchi realised that his art collection was now not only big enough, but also important enough to display in public. Later that year he showed his collection for the first time in a north London warehouse. At this point his interests were deeply rooted in American minimalism, and his collection included works by Donald Judd and Brice Marden.

In the early 1990s Saatchi sold most of his American collection and spent the next decade investing instead in the new generation of British artists. This included Damien Hurst, Tracey Emin and Mark Quinn – a group which came to be known as the Young British Artists, or, the YBAs. The YBAs were known for their openness to unexpected materials and processes, their shock tactics and fresh, entrepreneurial attitudes to making it in the art world.

Saatchi bought pieces that have since become some of the most famous works associated with British contemporary art. This included Tracey Emin’s controversial installation My Bed. In 1991, Saatchi commissioned Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde and displayed in a glass vitrine. He went on to sell this for $13 million. Always hovering between the roles of dealer and philanthropist, Saatchi donated 50 works in 2002 to the ‘Paintings in Hospitals’ programme, which lends artwork to hospitals and hospices throughout the UK and Ireland. In 2010, he donated many of his most precious pieces to the British public via the Arts Council, who lend them out to galleries and museums nationwide.

The gallery has a reputation for introducing artists who will go on to gain worldwide recognition, acting as a springboard for them to launch their careers. Saatchi has an enormous influence over the art world, and continues to buy the work of emerging artists.

The Saatchi Gallery is the only contemporary gallery of its size in the world to offer free entry to all exhibitions. This hasn’t always been an easy feat. In 2017, Saatchi auctioned off 100 works in his collection to help keep admission to the gallery free. The Saatchi remains committed to supporting young artists, and keeping contemporary art accessible for all.

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