Review: My Name is Charles Saatchi And I Am An Artoholic

Charles Saatchi makes up for years of shunning interviews by publishing a big question-and-answer session

By Melanie Abrams, September 24, 2009
The Pianist (after Robert J Lang), by Matt Johnson

The Pianist (after Robert J Lang), by Matt Johnson

Charles Saatchi does not give interviews. He is also not appearing in this autumn’s BBC2 reality show in which he helps to discover new British art talent, X-Factor style. So what does this book of his answers to questions from critics and others reveal of this chronically reclusive man?

Interestingly, he is more open about his earlier advertising career than about his role as an art collector.

After working alongside David Puttnam, Ridley Scott and Alan Parker at the legendary agency Collett Dickenson Pearce, which declared happiness to be a cigar called Hamlet and that Heineken refreshed the parts other beers cannot reach, Charles founded Saatchi and Saatchi with his brother Maurice in 1970 and shot to fame with their “Labour isn’t Working” ad for Maggie Thatcher’s 1979 election campaign.

Saatchi is unimpressed with today’s “dim, unsubtle and charmless” political advertising. He is similarly dismissive of the personalities, preferring Simon Cowell to David Cameron and bluntly comparing Gordon Brown to Kellogg’s All Bran as, “you know exactly what you are going to get”.

Although known for propelling Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin to international acclaim, Saatchi is most proud of having discovered Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons. Indeed, he believes that Hirst is going through an “off patch”.

Despite his 30-year involvement in the art world, he is still defensive about his advertising background: “Lord forbid that anyone in ‘trade’ should enter the hallowed portals of the aesthete. I liked working in advertising, but don’t believe my taste in art, such as it is, was entirely formed by TV commercials.”

Perhaps this is why he delights in shocking the art world with controversial views like taking a stand against saving paintings for the nation.

Born in Iraq to a Jewish family, Saatchi avoids answering questions that relate to his being Jewish or explaining why there were no Israeli artists in his gallery’s show earlier this year of new Middle East artists.

For someone who eschews interviews, it is ironic that throughout the book he insists that he does not care what people say about him. It seems perhaps that the opposite could be true.

Melanie Abrams writes on visual arts and media

Last updated: 3:16pm, February 18 2011