Saturday, September 30, 2006

The art explosion Today, there's more art, in more styles, than ever before. LATimes

"When I was a student, it was Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg who were clearly the most important artists," said Thomas Lawson, a painter and dean of the School of Art at CalArts. "Them and Andy Warhol. Everybody agreed that they were the ones. Now, because there are such diverse possibilities, it's much harder to say."

Of contemporary art today, two things, and maybe only two things, can be said for sure.
First, there is more of it — made in more styles and materials, by more artists who live, work and have exhibitions in more places — than ever before.

Second, it doesn't fit into neat categories or hierarchies. Thanks to the Internet, the ease of travel and the growth and globalization of the art market, the days of a single dominant style are long gone. Despite the proliferation of electronic media, many hip young artists devote themselves to drawing and painting or defy classification by dipping into a mixed bag of materials. The notion that an artist must live in a particular place to be successful is also a thing of the past. If there's such a thing as a prevailing trend, international eclecticism must be it.

"If you talk about local art, you sound like a Luddite," said John Baldessari, a pioneering Conceptualist who has been based in Los Angeles for decades but had his first success in Europe and is still in high demand there. With big museum shows in Germany and Belgium this fall, he's planning a retrospective at the Tate London in 2008.

To see his point and get a fix on contemporary art's big picture, consider the fall openers at Los Angeles area galleries. Painting, sculpture and photography coexist with new media, often in the work of a single citizen of the world who may be a visual storyteller, formal purist or social critic.

Among visitors from abroad, João Louro, a Portuguese impresario said to choose media "as a director selects the musicians for his orchestra," shows paintings and wall reliefs related to the film industry at Christopher Grimes Gallery. Henry Coombes, of Glasgow, exposes violence and domestic distress below the surface of British middle-class life in paintings, sculptures and a video at Anna Helwing. "Sea Change," an international group show, explores "ideas of three-dimensionality" in painting and sculpture at Roberts & Tilton. One artist, American painter Jimmy Baker, gives a surreal gloss to the evening news in highly refined but bizarre images drawn from popular culture.

American artists based outside L.A. also have a large presence. Tony Oursler, a New Yorker who merges video with sculpture and sound to mesmerizing effect, has dreamed up a history of space exploration in an installation at Margo Leavin. "Spaced," he calls the show, in a witty warning to visitors. Ernesto Caivano, who also lives in New York, has made up a tale about lovers reunited after a 1,000-year separation in a suite of 100 ink drawings at Richard Heller. Hung Liu, who cut her artistic teeth in China during the Cultural Revolution and lives in Oakland, has created a group of paintings based on her heritage for her L.A. debut at Walter Maciel.

"Translation is part of art-making," Liu says, "whether you are working from a photograph, a sketch, an observation, whatever. You lose something in the translation, but you also liberate yourself."

As for the home team, new media luminary Jeremy Blake presents "Sodium Fox," a digital, animated film made in collaboration with Nashville poet and musician David Berman, at Honor Fraser. Blake says he was inspired by Eugène Delacroix's romantic painting "Liberty Leading the People," but his version includes strippers, tattoos, graffiti, neon lights and Wal-Marts. Conceptualist Rodney McMillian offers a huge painting of a sky, for sale by the square foot, with pieces priced according to the buyer's income level, at Susanne Vielmetter. Frohawk Two Feathers, a.k.a. Umar Rashid, spins a narrative about colonialism and imperialism in paintings and sculptures at Taylor de Cordoba. Kevin Appel explodes buildings in meticulously crafted paintings at Angles.

The mix is no less daunting at biannual exhibitions that attempt to define the zeitgeist worldwide.

In "Still Points of the Turning World," Site Santa Fe's current contemporary art roundup, guest curator Klaus Ottmann dispensed with a theme and organized side-by-side solo exhibitions by 13 artists from Poland, Norway, Germany, Spain, France and the U.S. As Laura Steward Heon, director-curator of Site Santa Fe, wrote in the catalog: "In these postmodern times, the idea that a biennial could encapsulate a tidy overview of the art of a moment or place has been abandoned as hopelessly reductive."

The 2006 California Biennial, opening today at the Orange County Museum of Art, is limited to emerging artists who live and work in the state, but nine of the 36 were born outside the U.S. Their collective vision is said to reflect "today's eclectic communities, cultures and art movements."

The situation is much the same in Asia, where a spate of fall biennials with elastic themes celebrate homegrown artists in an international context. In Singapore, the theme is "Belief." In Gwangju, Korea, it's "Fever Variations," exploring Asian aesthetic roots and urban life. Shanghai's "Hyper Design" sounds relatively specific, but it branches into three sections: "design and imagination," "ordinary life practice" and "future and history." A concurrent show at Shanghai's year-old Museum of Contemporary Art, "Entry Gate: Chinese Aesthetics of Heterogeneity," offers a full spectrum of works by Chinese artists living in their native country and abroad.

Heterogeneity is no novelty in the West, where American and European audiences expect to have an international, multimedia menu of choices. Still, the ever-increasing variety of contemporary art taken seriously by curators, critics, dealers and collectors amounts to a profound change.

The progression of schools from Abstract Expressionism to Pop to Minimalism to Conceptualism has led to a Postmodern attitude that allows multi-tasking artists to take cues wherever they find them — mining history and placing it in a new context, or digging into personal experience while combining styles and media. Almost anything goes if it's packaged right or catches the art world's attention.

Identifying the art that matters

AMONG living artists, Rauschenberg and Johns are so thoroughly written into art history and their work is so well represented in major museum collections that their immortality seems assured. Other over-60 contenders include German painter Gerhard Richter, Russian installation artist Ilya Kabakov, British painters Lucian Freud and David Hockney and Americans Baldessari, Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Irwin, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Edward Ruscha, Richard Serra and Frank Stella. Plenty of younger artists are waiting in the wings, but only time will tell who will be remembered.

"Take somebody who is very important to artists doing video," Lawson said, "somebody like Douglas Gordon, who just had a big show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is on the cover of the fall issue of Artforum." The British artist known for appropriating and altering commercial films "seems to have hit the zeitgeist because he did a film portrait of Zidane just before Zidane head-butted the Italian player in the World Cup," Lawson said. "Douglas is a truly significant player. At the moment, he's as visible as Johns was when he had his first retrospective at the Whitney in 1976, but he's only going to influence younger artists doing time-based work."

The art world has ways of measuring such things. Auction houses with a rapidly expanding reach track who's on top — or new and hot — in sales boasting record prices. Museum curators cast votes for artistic posterity as they decide who deserves the next big mid-career survey or retrospective. But artists also have a lot to say about the art that matters. The work they look at, think about, respond to and build upon is the art most likely to last.

Given the complexity of today's scene, that covers a lot of territory.

Photographer Catherine Opie — who recently showed her work at OCMA, is represented at Site Santa Fe's biennial and is looking forward to a retrospective at New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2008 — is partial to Baldessari and Richter. She sees Baldessari, who serves on the board of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art and is known for helping young artists, as a model of artistic rigor and community-minded generosity. Richter is a soul mate. Intrigued by the German artist's proclivity for blurring boundaries between painting and photography, she senses that they share an approach to exploring "basic ideas of representation."

For Baldessari, LeWitt is the most enduring model among living artists. "He has figured out a way to sidestep taste," he said of the New York-based artist known for devising plans for wall drawings and paintings to be carried out by someone else.

Charles Gaines, another veteran conceptualist — whose "Snake River," a collaborative film with Edgar Arceneaux, is on view at CalArts' Gallery at REDCAT — gravitates to other artists who treat art as a critical discourse. Some are his former students at CalArts. Sam Durant, for example, investigates notions of class. McMillian, he said, "is struggling with the possibility of art on a critical level" and "exploring his own conceptual limitations and understandings in a political context."

Among younger artists, Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based Waneguchi Mutu — who merges beauty and horror in figurative mixed-media collage paintings and is also represented at Site Santa Fe — finds inspiration in art and music. Each of her favorite artists — including sculptor Bourgeois, installation artist David Hammons, Icelandic chanteuse Björk and Argentine classical pianist Martha Argerich — has "an exceptional and distinct aesthetic language, imbued with layers of brilliance and wit," she wrote in an e-mail message. "Great artistry is almost childlike in its desire to be loved, ruthlessly sincere, relevant and yet illogical."

Jane Callister, an abstract painter born on the Isle of Man and based in Santa Barbara, has created a 23-foot wall for the California Biennial at OCMA and is working on another wall project at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in Arizona. Citing Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock and Color Field painter Morris Louis among early influences, she now draws inspiration from a broad roster, including new-media artist Jennifer Steinkemp, conceptual sculptor Matthew Barney, photographer Andreas Gursky and painters Polly Appfelbaum, Linda Bessemer, Karen Carson, Sharon Ellis, James Gobels and Lisa Yusgavage.

Such artists address "ongoing challenges," she said. For the painters, that means grappling with questions: "What does it mean to paint? Why paint? How best to paint now? How is painting perceived now in light of new technologies and media arts? What is its function? How far can it be stretched before it breaks?"

Sandeep Muhkerjee, an Indian-born, L.A.-based painter who had a short career in engineering before becoming an artist, said he is drawn to "philosophically driven" artists who ask unanswerable questions. Among them are Richter, Bourgeois, LeWitt, Vija Celmins, Lari Pittman, Laura Owens, Charles Ray and Yayoi Kusama.

While American artists, especially those who teach budding careerists, often debate the compatibility of aesthetics and ideas and worry about art that appears to be created for the market, their counterparts in Asia are more inclined to see the big issues as social and political turmoil.

But, more and more, they all look at the same art. Chinese painters Yu Hong and Liu Xiaodong, for example, travel frequently and are well versed in the work of their peers. The videos of American Bill Viola are of great interest to Yu because of his evocations of human feelings of fear and helplessness in the face of destructive power. Liu is most intrigued with artists he perceives as descendants of Marcel Duchamp, including British artist Damien Hirst and Chinese conceptualist Cai Guo-Qiang.

As a longtime observer of the international contemporary art scene, Baldessari said he is "increasingly aware that art is not relegated to the Western world. It used to bother me that when I looked at a globe, art in the Western world covered very little of the Earth's surface. I knew that art was going on everywhere," he said.

"Now I think what has brought the world together is art prices. That's a cynical thing to say, but all of a sudden, the auction houses have gone into China and India and Dubai. In one way it's good and one way it's bad. You have to have a sense of absurdity. It's money that brings us together." By Suzanne Muchnic, Times Staff Writer

Friday, September 29, 2006

Everybody Loves Pablo NYTimes

Notwithstanding the glamorous pictures in it, “Picasso and American Art” at the Whitney Museum is one of those dull affairs incubated in the world of academe: a walk-through textbook that goes to extraordinary lengths to state the obvious.

It has the numbing feel of a compare-and-contrast slide lecture, the scholastic consequence of art forced to service information. Picasso’s “Woman in White,” a picture of heavenly arrogance, hangs between Arshile Gorky’s “Artist and His Mother” and de Kooning’s “Standing Man,” terrific paintings too. We are meant to register the plain insinuation of Picasso’s Neoclassicism, then move on. Next slide, please.

Fittingly, the show ends not with the lively question of Picasso’s impact on young artists today but with a virtual retrospective of the later, Picasso-inspired works by Jasper Johns, that most hermetic and constipated of American masters. In picture after picture Johns buries allusions to the great Spaniard, aspiring presumably to Picasso’s own late meditations on Velázquez. Except that even when he was old and running out of steam, Picasso still had joie de vivre. Johns doesn’t so much enthrone Picasso as repeatedly entomb him.

The exhibition tracks the impact of Picasso on American artists from Max Weber on. (Who outside Scholar World cares about Max Weber in the first place is a mystery.) Pictures by Picasso that influenced pictures by Americans have been rounded up and brought together. The scholarship, the result of years of serious work by Michael FitzGerald, a Picasso expert, seems unimpeachable and fills a fat book, where, ultimately, it belongs.

Mr. FitzGerald documents a legacy of Picasso displays: one in New York in 1911, in the Armory Show in 1913, another show in 1915, a survey in Brooklyn in 1921, yet another Picasso exhibition in 1923, at the Whitney Studio Club. That one is partly recreated here, a nice touch, with paintings by Stuart Davis in an adjacent gallery, from a year or so later, which jazz up Picasso’s Cubism by giving it various American twists (painted comics, the image of a Lucky Strike pack).

Davis holds his own in this show, likewise de Kooning, Pollock and a few others, who make a hardy case for burgeoning American independence. By the mid-1930’s, about halfway through the exhibition, the home team has almost shed its obsequiousness. At that point Picasso’s “Studio,” from 1927-28, is still the colorful Tinker Toy centerpiece in a congress of David Smiths, de Koonings, Lee Krasners and Gorkys that collectively play Charlie McCarthy to its Edgar Bergen. But gradually de Kooning and Gorky deconstruct Picasso’s linear style; they explode the tight Cubist grid, remaking their own beholden, puzzlelike images into maelstroms of fleshy pigment.

Into the 1940’s and 50’s Americans respond as much to one another as to Picasso, whose “Demoiselles d’Avignon” nevertheless remains the ghost in the machine of works like de Kooning’s blowsy “Woman” series. Pollock, literally covering up Picassolike shapes with drips and splashes, finally invents himself by this act. Louise Bourgeois fills a cameo role with a pair of pictures that eccentrically riff on Picasso’s Janus-headed motifs.

Picasso has by then become a living monument, his “Guernica” (not here of course, but at the time at the Museum of Modern Art) imitating the look of a black and white cartoon, with a newspaper illustration’s implicit delivery of second-hand emotion, felicitously helping pave the way for Pop years later.

Accordingly, the show rustles up an early Roy Lichtenstein, a delicate little nothing, from 1953, which wrestles with bits of the architecture of Picasso’s “Three Musicians.” A decade later, a mature Lichtenstein swallows whole Picassos, mixes and regurgitates them as coldly rapturous meditations on the great man’s resourceful palette, Cubist patterning and celebrity.

Lichtenstein’s laconic absorption of Picasso hawks American industry. His art looks immaculate and, like Johns’s and Warhol’s, chilly as such. Picasso, by contrast, remains dashingly, fiercely handcrafted. His pictures never try to look fresh. They just are.

All of which reiterates what we knew already. The unanswerable question is what role Picasso might play next. Historical precedents are hard to come by, Picasso being so modern, his art linked to 20th-century ideas of required novelty and constant reinvention, his fame accelerated by the mass media.

There is Rubens, the dominant figure of his day, who laid out a map for Baroque art, and like Picasso was universally admired, sought after by every patron, emulated by Rembrandt and van Dyck. But now, history having been reconfigured, it’s Velázquez, an artist few people outside Spain had heard of at the time, who looms largest from an era that also produced Bernini and Poussin.

On the other hand there is Michelangelo, as Picasso would be, a stultifying presence for generations, casting a shadow over the equivalent of countless anxious sheep, until Caravaggio came along and turned obeisance into a dialectic.

Michelangelo fell out of fashion, but he remained a persona, the heroic ideal of the artist. We could use a few more heroes in art today, don’t you think? Their absence partly accounts for Picasso’s enduring aura. At the end of his “Discourses,” delivered as lectures at the Royal Academy in London, the 18th-century painter Joshua Reynolds, whose style couldn’t have been farther from Michelangelo’s, said what plenty of artists might now think about Picasso.

“I have taken another course, one more suited to my abilities, and to the taste of the times in which I live,” Reynolds wrote. “Yet however unequal I feel myself to that attempt, were I now to begin the world again, I would tread in the steps of that great master.”

He ended, in 18th-century fashion: “I should desire that the last words which I should pronounce in this Academy, and from this place, might be the name of — MICHAEL ANGELO.”

De Kooning said something oddly similar, out of frustration, when Picasso died in 1973. An interviewer asked him about Picasso’s influence. “There are certain things I like to keep to myself,” de Kooning barked. “He’s always with me — certain artists are always with me. And surely Picasso is one of them.”

He added: “I’m not going to answer your questions because to me the answers are self-evident.”

Which ought to have given the Whitney pause.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Will Documenta 12's venues be too full? Der Standard reports that organizers of the quinquennial exhibition fear that next year's installment may be too crowded. According to D12 manager Bernd Leifeld, "the goal is: the visitor numbers from the last Documenta, plus one." Four years ago, Documenta 11 welcomed 650,000 visitors during its traditional hundred-day run. According to the paper, artistic director Roger-Martin Buergel wants to avoid a "folk festival situation," as D12's focus lies on education and mediation. "People should be able to engage with an artwork."

Buergel adds that each of the approximately one hundred selected artists has received their invitation. Many artists will be contributing older works along with new ones. "I want to see a few historical works alongside the new works made in Kassel, so that one can comprehend the artist's biography," said Buergel. The exhibition will also be "translocal." "Artists are working all over with similar problems," he said. "We are looking for relations that present the regional in a global way."

Buergel also has his eye on the art market. "We are an exhibition for contemporary art. Models are created here that will determine the art market for the next twenty, thirty years," he told the newspaper. "If we don't achieve that, we're dead."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Art sales: over-talented and over here Telegraph

Young American art is taking London by storm this autumn – not in the salerooms, but in our public institutions and private galleries where, behind the scenes, a new, potentially volcanic market is bubbling.

Already up and running is Uncertain States of America, an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery of works by 40 artists in their twenties and thirties that reflect the social and political unease felt by those in the post-9/11 era. One of these, Matthew Ronay, is also having a solo show at Parasol Unit, a privately funded gallery in north London.

In London's West End, dealer Thomas Dane quotes Salman Rushdie in the introduction to Civil Restitutions, his show of socio-political art that includes both older and younger American artists: "A moment comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new."

And next month Modern Art, a fashionable gallery in east London, will exhibit new work by Matthew Monahan, an ubiquitous presence at this summer's Basel Art Fair, so obviously an artist to be watched. This show will benefit from Monahan's inclusion in the biggest display of confidence in young American art yet: USA Today, Charles Saatchi's blockbuster exhibition of 150 works by 40 young American artists that opens at the Royal Academy on October 6.

Where Saatchi moves, there is usually a fertile market at work. When he began buying these works two years ago there was less than a handful of collectors exploring the terrain. One was Manchester businessman Frank Cohen, dubbed the Saatchi of the North, who worked closely with the London-based dealer and collector Nicolai Frahm. Others were Don and Mera Rubell from Miami, who make a habit of setting trends in the market place, and sensed a new "zeitgeist" in the air. The Rubells will show their collection of art from Los Angeles during the Art Basel/Miami Beach art fair in December.

But museum exposure for these artists, particularly in New York at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the radical, publicly funded PS1 gallery, alerted a much wider range of collectors, all eager to jump on the next bandwagon, and prices began to escalate on the private resale market. This is a market that operates after the first point of sale behind closed doors: deals are struck between collectors or in dealers' back rooms – not in the saleroom.

Frahm, who showed a group of Los Angeles artists from his and Cohen's collections at the Hospital gallery in Covent Garden this summer, confirms what has been happening. Three years ago he commissioned Gerald Davis (who is in Saatchi's exhibition) to paint a triptych and paid £3,000 a canvas. Gallery prices for Davis in New York are now more than £30,000 a canvas, but on the private resale market his best works can command up to £100,000, says Frahm. The Los Angeles photographer Florian Maier-Aichen (also in the Saatchi show) was selling his work at London's Victoria Miro gallery last year for between £10,000 and £15,000. His best work is now reselling privately for more than £60,000.

Other artists in USA Today whose names may mean little to us right now but can command six-figure sums include Kristin Baker, Mark Grotjahn, Banks Violette, Terence Koh, Wangechi Mutu and Barnaby Furnas. Two of the most sought-after are the painter and sculptor Jules de Balincourt, and the painter Dana Schutz. Four years ago, you could buy de Balincourt's work for under £1,000. Now, trade sources say, his best work can resell privately for up to £400,000, while prices for Schutz paintings that cost less than £30,000 two years ago can be as much as £450,000. But New York dealer Zach Feuer, who represents both artists, says these figures are exaggerated: "People may be asking those prices, but it's not true that they're selling for that much."

Nevertheless, such talk points to a hyperactive resale market for many of the artists in the Saatchi show. As yet, most have still to reach the auction rostrum, and only one so far has made an impact in the saleroom – a large painting by Furnas doubled estimates to sell for £210,000 this May.

For the others, and indeed for Saatchi's latest gamble, the acid test has yet to come.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rebels without a cause The Guardian

A new exhibition suggests US artists are getting angry. But what about? And what's the point of a polystyrene shark and soiled underpants? By Adrian Searle.

A voice, a mumbling spooky death rattle, echoes inside a cavity in the wall illuminated by an ultraviolet light. "Spy, spy on them. This guy - this guy Al. Al-Qaida. Got to see him." Could this be the cave where Big Al is hanging out? "Natural gas. Gas explosion. Mmnnnn. Campfire ... camp. Training camp. UFO. Nnnrghh."

I stuck my head in through a hatch and wrote down this transcription while looking at Anthony Burdin's Voodoo Room, London, but it is as inaccurate as all that bad intelligence about WMDs. Maybe these are the last words of some ghost detainee in a prison that doesn't exist. There is graffiti on the wall, depicting a pair of guys. They look more like Beavis and Butthead than insurgents. But who can tell - you can't trust nobody these days.

Welcome to Uncertain States of America, at the Serpentine Gallery. Like the country itself, the show is messy, sprawling, contradictory, inexplicable, strange and more than a little bit worrying. At a time when America seems cocksure of itself on the world stage, an art of uncertainty might be no bad thing. Or perhaps it is signal to artistic impotence in the face of world events. At the bottom of two poster works by Matthew Brannon - called Polluted Minds and Open Wounds, and Public Breakup and Career Backlash - the small print reads "none of this is important", a sentiment with which I can only concur.

It is difficult, in fact, to know just what is important here: the piles of paint cans, the photocopied papers covered in scribbles littering the floor, the handles screwed to the wall and the dangling strips of cloth, where a man mummified himself and squatted on a little shelf halfway between floor and ceiling last Friday night. Is Mika Rottenberg's video, featuring a very fat black woman prodding at a mound of drooping, sagging dough, significant? And what is Daria Martin's film trying to say? It is all high production values and empty pretensions, featuring a pentathlon, lots of arch 1960s references (including Rita Tushingham), and an inconclusive ending.

The water in the black-painted fibreglass and cardboard Karl Lagerfeld Jacuzzi churns nicely. I don't know why the thing is named after Lagerfeld, but I'm pretty sure it's a tad too small for an adult to get into. Nearby, Cristina Lei Rodriguez's luscious arrangement of artificial orchids, made from epoxy, plastic and foam, await only a maid to give them a dusting. These are luxury goods for people who want for nothing. Across the room, Matt Johnson's gold-plated bronze spider-crab Buddha is waving his claws atop a mound of sand. A perfectly executed pair of soiled underpants decorates Matthew Ronay's work.

All this is overlooked by an equally artificial naked man. Apart from his weird cosmetic sheen, he's a disconcerting, accidental doppelganger for Hans Ulrich Obrist, recently appointed co-director of the Serpentine and co-curator of the show. Or is this Obrist as a living statue of himself? Can't be; I saw the real thing ambling over to the Serpentine Pavilion a minute or two ago. But the statue's resemblance does add to the cumulative sense of uncertainty.

A great white shark is circling a snowy sea of shredded polythene beneath icy neon stalactites, in an installation by Kori Newkirk, occupying not so much an icy waste as an alcove. More painted sharks circle the wall, and a photograph shows a man in the snow. The whole arrangement seems to be about danger and exposure.

But like the moth-eaten lions in a provincial zoo, much of this show already looks a bit sad and desperate. Maybe the exhibition's tour, which has taken it from Oslo back to the US and now to the Serpentine, is taking its toll. Some things don't travel well, or are hard to grasp outside an American context. Some of the same artists featured in this year's Whitney Biennial in New York, and their work evinces a disenchantment and a cynicism. It is impossible to know if the disenchantment relates to America itself, or just to the art world. But how could one not be cynical - about the stupidity of collectors, the arrogance of dealers, the fickleness of curators, the cruelty of critics, the utter obliviousness of the world at large, as well as the naked knife-in-the-back careerism of every other artist?

The overall tenor is sophisticated, charmless, disaffected and at times deliberately damaged. The collision of artists and works is also often incomprehensible. The pile-up of stuff might be, in part, collaborative, but the effect is merely wearying, a sub-Kippenberger-ish turn-off.

There is no doubt about how to approach Aaron Young's oval, abstract paintings. His titles tell you: "Focus on the four dots in the middle of the painting for 30 seconds, close your eyes and tilt your head back," they all say. I stare and close my eyes, and a wobbly afterimage appears on my retina: Jesus! It's Jesus, or Charlie Manson, or some other bearded long-hair.

Karl Haendel writes in the catalogue that he doesn't believe in originality, inspiration or creativity. He says such terms "pollute artistic discourse", and that artists who believe in them are selfish, misguided and being used. But by whom, exactly? His use of the word "discourse" alerts me to the possibility that he may have spent too much time in the art school theory department. He should get out more. How much use do we really have for the uninspired, the non-creative and unoriginal - the cultural equivalent of the supersize burger, and about as nutritious?

Haendel's own work is nothing like as dead as all this might suggest, so I guess he's just being disingenuous. He has redrawn covers of the New York Times, all dated February 14, for the years 1951 ("Reds Launch New Attacks in Korea"), 1965 ("US Is Considering Troop Increase in South Vietnam") and 1991 ("Iraq Says US Killed Hundreds of Civilians at Shelter"). A big, fat painted line connects these drawings with others depicting a rabbit's family tree, a golf ball with the words The Big Bang written on it, and a very large and skilfully drawn reworking of a woodcut depicting the martyrdom of St Valentine by decapitation. This drawing is presented on its side, possibly because the gallery ceiling is too low for it to fit any other way. The artist also appears on a monitor, propounding a theory of love, dark energy, and a painful-sounding "epistemological block". St Valentine, rabbits and the big bang? This all looks pretty creative to me.

On the floor close by is the most affecting and memorable work of the show; it was one of the highlights of the Whitney Biennial. A projected rhomboid of light tilts across the floor. Murky dawn gives way to full daylight. A telegraph pole hoves into view, dangling wires, a streetlight. It is a world of backlit shadows. Flocks of birds fill the sky. Stuff - mobile phones, pairs of spectacles, cars, an entire train, surge upwards, maybe towards heaven, except it all starts breaking up before reaching tree height. Crows settle on the streetlight, bombing the world with their shit. Could this be the Rapture, as American zealots might have it? Bodies are also falling, just as we remember seeing them on 9/11. They pinwheel down, dance on air, tumble and plunge. Enormous human shadows wrestle with gravity. Paul Chan's 1st Light is transfixing. Really, it needs more space, but so does everything here.

All those videos stuck in odd corners, and available to watch in the Pavilion, have a tendency to become decor. I nearly missed a reworking of Euripides' Cyclops done as very low-budget sci-fi, with human actors and a cardboard set, by Ohad Meromi. This is astonishingly good, both stupid and memorable all at once. The tone is just right: "Unprofessional yet done in the most serious way," as the artist has it. It reminded me of Pasolini's Edipo Re, and of the 1960s TV puppet show Space Patrol. Like Chan's shadow-world apocalypse, it was very convincing - and, dare I say, creative, original and inspired.

But does any of this tell us very much about America? To coincide with the exhibition, the Serpentine is publishing The Uncertain States of America Reader, a number of recent essays on art theory, the art market, 9/11, Abu Ghraib and the war on terror.

But the book has more heft than most of the art in the show. In the end there's too much here that is silly, opaque and, to be honest, immature. How seriously should we take Uncertain States of America? We can probably take it as read that the artists are against current American foreign policy. Sometimes all this is a subplot; sometimes the artists make their position overt. What difference it might make is another story, but then it always is. Little wonder so much of it feels impotent.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Love and War

Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at FIT, has a knack for setting up polar opposites and then following them over the course of scores of carefully selected, beautifully displayed garments and accessories until they meet. “Love and War: The Weaponized Woman” is no exception.

The show’s focus is the influence on contemporary and modern couture of garments of love and seduction (lingerie) and war (armor and military uniforms). These are not entirely new themes for this museum — both have been the subject of large exhibitions — but the specific examples are, as usual, fresh and in some cases hot off the runway, and their interaction is worth examining.

The show unfolds against a backdrop of Renaissance, Persian and Japanese armor from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass., that can cast even familiar objects in a new light. Martin Margiela’s split-toe Tabi boot is well known, for instance, but not often exhibited with an example of the Japanese foot armor that is one of its precedents. In addition a series of photographs by Tanya Marcuse emphasizes the sculptural kinship between these objects and 19th-century corsets and bustles.

In the main part of the exhibition, the twains of lingerie and armor, and seduction and aggression, converge and diverge in garments by some of the biggest names in fashion, past and present. One especially famous, and early, intersection is Issey Miyake’s 1983 red bustier, resin on molded plastic, which idealizes the female torso with considerable accuracy and also echoes a bronze cuirass from fourth-century B.C. Greece. Wearability is frequently disdained, most notably by a gilt metal robot bra and panties by Thierry Mugler, a silver coil corset by the jeweler Shaun Lee for Alexander McQueen and a fiberglass dress by Hussein Chalayan.

The considerably softer effect of slips and peignoirs on evening gown design is thoroughly considered. Two extraordinary, rather minimal dresses (one by Helmut Lang, the other by Yohji Yamamoto) find new uses for the narrow, pleated draping of Fortuny and Madame Grès. A black lace flapper-style dress by A. F. Vandevorst, while demure of line, openly reveals bra, panties and garter belt beneath. On the military front a Vandevorst jacket efficiently conjures up dress blues (both Navy and infantry) and a business suit.

There is a sizable contingent of black leather evening gowns, including an extraordinary embroidered one by John Galliano for Christian Dior that entails gleaming armor for one arm. But this is nothing. Mr. Galliano is also responsible for a black plastic and silk ensemble that looks ready for a Kurosawa movie set in medieval Japan. ROBERTA SMITH

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Briton charged over 'insult' to Turkish PM

A British artist is facing up to three years in prison after he was arrested yesterday and charged with insulting the Turkish prime minister's dignity outside an Istanbul courthouse where he was protesting against another freedom of speech trial.

Police detained Michael Dickinson after he refused to put away a poster-sized collage he had made depicting the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as a dog attached to a Stars and Stripes leash. "I wasn't even planning to open it up," the Durham-born artist said on the phone from the police station where he gave a statement.

"But then I said 'in for a penny in for a pound' - if I'm here at all, it's about freedom of speech."

The day had a feeling of deja-vu for Dickinson, who has been living and working in Istanbul for 20 years. He went to court in the morning in support of a Turkish anti-war campaigner, Erkan Kara, who was charged with insulting behaviour for exhibiting a similar piece of his work depicting President Bush pinning a rosette on to Mr Erdogan at a dog show. Dickinson insists he hung his collage without the exhibition organisers' knowledge. "I didn't ask permission to put it up," he says. "I just walked in and put it up."

In his indictment of Erkan Kara, the prosecutor described Dickinson as "ill-intentioned" but declined to press charges for "lack of evidence". "I think he [the prosecutor] was under pressure from the outside, from the government," said Hasan Gungor of Initiative for Freedom of Speech, an Istanbul-based group. "Turkey's under big pressure from the European Union over the issue of freedom of speech, and they didn't want the trial to become international news."

Not everybody has been pleased with the publicity Dickinson has tried to bring to the case. In the crowded corridor of the courthouse before yesterday's trial began, angry words were exchanged between the British artist and members of the Peace and Justice Coalition of which Mr Kara is a member.

"Our concern is the war in Iraq, that's what we're working to put an end to," one woman from the Turkish chapter of the Global Anti-War Movement said. "What you are doing, sticking up pictures of the prime minister as a dog, does not attract people to us, it drives them away."

It was at that point that Dickinson, obviously angry, first unrolled the poster he had been carrying under his arm and displayed it to bystanders.

Since hitting headlines in March 2005 for suing a cartoonist who portrayed him as a cat tangled up in a ball of wool, Mr Erdogan is believed to have earned at least £115,000 in damages from insult cases. The Turkish press have labelled him "damages-rich".

Saturday, September 09, 2006

What Charles did next The Guardian

He is the most voracious collector of contemporary art, the man who made a whole generation of Young British Artists rich and famous. Now, with an ambitious new website, a major show at the Royal Academy and a gallery opening in Chelsea, he's back. He speaks exclusively to Stuart Jeffries.

There is a tradesmen's entrance to the Saatchis' Belgravia home. What comes in through there - Charles's acquisitions, Nigella's white truffles? Is a journalist a tradesman? I'm not sure, so I trot up the stairs to the intimidating main entrance and ring the bell. A young assistant opens the door, and whisks me through the hall. In a blur, I see Magritte's signature beneath a moonlit scene (Was it a bungalow? Did Magritte do bungalows?). Opposite, there is a naked old retainer sitting on a bench who, when I look back down from the stairs, turns out to be Duane Hanson's Man on a Bench.

On the landing, there is a huge framed photograph of Nigella looking quite the pip. But there's no time to study the picture properly because her husband is already shaking my hand and offering me some chilled, cloudy lemonade. "It's from Waitrose," he says, confidingly. "I can really recommend it."

We move to a vast room and sit behind a huge desk before an outsized computer. It's hard not to feel insignificant. Even Saatchi seems an outsized version of himself. He wears a baggy blue, short-sleeved shirt and has eyes that meet yours with sidelong, sad puppyish glances - a premonition of what David Schwimmer will look like at 63.

I have been warned that Charles would prefer it if I didn't write about how messy his house is. I'm quite prepared to adhere to this stricture, chiefly because it isn't. Saatchi disagrees: "It's a toilet here. In the dining room, all there is on the walls is chains where pictures once were, and every morning Nigella says, 'When are you going to put a bloody picture up here?'" Given the size of Saatchi's collection, she has a point. Today, she is nowhere in evidence.

Saatchi is a famously reluctant interviewee. Baghdad-born, Hampstead-raised, one half of the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency who helped make Thatcher electable, he is generally portrayed as a furtive, latter-day Citizen Kane. The most voracious of contemporary art collectors, he hardly ever makes public appearances and rarely speaks to the press. Asked by readers of the Art Newspaper in 2005 why he doesn't attend even his own openings, he replied: "I don't go to other people's openings, so I extend the same courtesy to my own."

He doesn't give interviews, he says, because "I come over as shifty. One thing that makes my flesh crawl is reading about myself." Nigella, on the other hand, a former journalist, is more comfortable with the press and frequently attends openings on her husband's behalf. "She's very, very charming, very clever, and she's very open so she'll just gab on about anything. With me, as you can see, I'm very shifty and very nervous - that's why I keep my gob shut."

Shifty or not, today Saatchi wants to talk about three things: the website he set up earlier this year that allows artists to show their work direct to the public; his new gallery in Chelsea, which, when it opens next year, he hopes will erase unhappy memories of his time at County Hall; and his life as an art collector.

I ask if the website, which displays works by 10,000-plus artists from around the world, was his idea. "Is it that bad?" he asks. "Is that what you're saying?" I'm not - but he seems to be joking, and goes on to explain that he set it up because "like any religious convert I have discovered the internet terribly late. The more interested I got in the site, the more I thought it could be a useful outlet - showcase, whatever - for artists who don't have dealers. Let them deal directly with collectors. Scanning a website to see work by an artist halfway across the world is the lazy way to do it, but probably the only effective way.

"My little dream is that this can develop into an artists' community, where artists can load up their own work, visitors can browse. You don't have to pay a dealer 50% commission. Dealers tend to buy artists that other artists they already show recommend. If you're not in the loop, if you didn't go to the right art school, if you don't know the right people who have the right dealers, it's very hard to break in."

Of course, looking at images online is not how Saatchi became one of the world's great collectors. In the 1990s, instead of downloading images on to his computer, he visited makeshift galleries in empty hairdressing salons and warehouses, and succeeded in unearthing possibly the most thrilling, certainly the most media-friendly, art Britain has ever produced. He bought up a great deal of what he saw and made a generation of artists - Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, the Chapman brothers, Marc Quinn - rich and famous.

"Most of the art that ended up in Sensation [the 1997 touring exhibition of his collection of BritArt] I first saw put on by artists in alternative spaces. They couldn't spend their whole lives waiting for Anthony d'Offay or Leslie Waddington or any of the other big dealers to come around to look."

Saatchi has described himself as "a gorger of the briefly new", and he tells me that even in his 60s he is "just a sad kid who wants to find a new sweetie". He still spends every weekend in remote parts of south and east London hunting for art. "I wander round the most disagreeable, grotty parts of London - I've become very fond of them - to see shows that have literally been put up in an empty shop or yard."

Saatchi's critics, including artists who have benefitted from his patronage, argue that his buying power, his appetite for "the briefly new", has distorted values on the art market; others say that he has brought his ad agency values to the art world. "It is perhaps inevitable," argues art writer Louisa Buck, "that a man who is himself so adept at visual communication should feel an affinity with artists such as Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, whose work relies on a similar ability to distil complex ideas into a powerful and accessible messsage." Naturally, Saatchi disagrees: "That's a facile take on what I do."

It was while Saatchi was working in advertising that he began to establish himself in the international art market, bankrolling his collection from his booming ad agency. He bought his first picture on a trip to Paris with his first wife, Doris Lockhart, an American- born art writer, in 1973. It was a depiction of suburban houses by British artist David Hepher, but Saatchi's taste evolved and he built up a world-class collection of mostly American contemporary art. "There was absolutely no interest here at all. So I spent most of my time going to America - and I was also very interested in Japanese and German art."

In 1985, he opened a gallery in St John's Wood and started exhibiting his collection in a bid to improve the nation's "unhealthy" attitude to contemporary art. At his prototypical white cube in the suburbs, Saatchi staged the first wholesale shows in Britain of artists such as Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Naumann, Richard Serra and Jeff Koons.

In the 1990s, Saatchi started offloading a lot of his collection of postwar American art and buying contemporary British art. The first work was Damien Hirst's A Thousand Years, a glass vitrine containing a cow's rotting head, along with maggots and flies. He also bought Tracey Emin's Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, an embroidered tent that he picked up for £150,000. He paid £13,000 for Marc Quinn's Self, a cast of the artist's head in nine pints of his own frozen blood. Later, there were lovely rumours that builders, hired to refit Saatchi's kitchen after his marriage to Nigella, accidentally melted Quinn's work by unplugging its electric supply. Unfortunately, they weren't true: he sold Self to an American collector in 2005 for £1.5m.

Selling the Quinn at a massive profit is typical Saatchi. He would argue that by offloading it and other works from his collection he has enabled himself to buy new art, thus encouraging new artists and keeping his collection as fresh as frozen blood.

Some artists would disagree, or at least fail to see that Saatchi acts in anyone's interest other than his own. The painter Peter Blake has argued that "he has become a malign influence by building up some artists and leaving others as victims". Blake's implicit point is that Saatchi will buy up an artist's works wholesale and then dump them, thereby ruining a career. There was even a theory that Saatchi had contracted with an arsonist to burn the Momart warehouse in 2004, a fire that destroyed much of his collection - the ultimate, cynical dumping of art that some said was past its sell-by date. "It wasn't terrifically amusing the first time people came up with this," he told the Art Newspaper when this was put to him by a reader. "Now it's the 100th time."

But what does he think of Blake's criticism? "I never did buy a Peter Blake," he says wryly, offering me a puppyish glance. But Blake is hardly Saatchi's only critic. Damien Hirst turned on his patron a few years ago, witheringly describing Saatchi as "a shopaholic". It was a criticism that chimed with Kay Hartenstein's (Saatchi's second wife) description of her ex as "a man of crushes: cars, clothes, artists". (She didn't add "wives".)

"Obviously, if you do what I do you are going to end up making people sometimes happy and sometimes unhappy," Saatchi says. "I cannot, nor would I want to, buy everything I see, so I have to make decisions about what I like. I like to keep my collecting fresh, and I think people have got the message."

Why does he collect? "I like to show off. I always buy art with the idea that I'm going to show it." Interestingly, he thinks his influence over the art world has been clobbered recently by all the hedge-fund billionaires muscling in. "Before, I was always mouthing off about how there aren't enough collectors. Now there are just too many. They're all very young and very rich, and they all like to collect art the way they buy their funds.

"I met one the other day, an American guy who was so young, and somebody told me he had made $500m last year - $500m cold for himself! I wanted to kill him. And he said to me, 'Yeah, well I've got 212 Kippenbergers.' I said, 'Ooh.' Now I know a little about Kippenberger. And I know where all the good ones are. He was very prolific, but he made 60 or 70 really good pieces. He made things every single day, he was one of the artists who had to, but most of it was so-so. So this guy's got 212!

"So we end up laughing at him, and think this is not a real collector. But he's going to wind up looking like the smart one in financial terms, because he's taken the hedge-fund attitude. Kippenberger is going to be big. This guy's got his own art adviser. They all have their own art advisers - ladies dressed in black from head to toe, very chic, very, very thin - and they will have told him about the latest hip artist. So whatever his motivation, he will, in four or five years' time, have made a fortune on Kippenberger. And we will think, 'Why didn't we do that?'"

Because he's not in it for the money? "No, of course I'm not in it for the money. I make a lot of money from the stuff I sell, but then I pay incredibly high prices for the things I want. That's how I get what I like. The market is so insane. What I do when I collect is one of two things: I buy very new people, then I can do what I like. Or, if it's somebody where I haven't got there first - which is the majority of cases because I don't travel - I make a list of my favourite works by that artist and I will try to get those pieces. And if that means I pay 10 times the market price, I don't mind doing it. The important thing is getting the pieces that are going to make the best show. So in that sense, it's best not to think about money."

Does the way he collects distort the market? "I am a strange distortion," he giggles. "I think it comes from a desire to show the artist at their best. Some people are reluctant to let them go unless you pay them a very, very high premium. So I do. That's how you get them."

He says he can't even ballpark his personal fortune. "I've got no idea. I think it's fair to say I don't ever think about money, so obviously in that sense I'm fantastically rich. I'm only rich in that I'm better off than most people. I don't feature on rich lists or anything."

Since the late 1990s Saatchi's problem has not been buying art, but knowing what art to buy. Like many people, he has struggled to identify the YBAs' successors. In 1998, Saatchi announced the coming of a new generation of British artists he called the New Neurotic Realists. Among the "NewNus" (the acronym didn't catch on) brought together for two shows at Saatchi's north London gallery were Ron Mueck, Cecily Brown (whose painting Puce Moment was described by one critic as "an aggressive explosion of sex organs"), and David Falconer, whose Vermin Death Stack was a 10ft pile of dead mice made of cast resin. But was it a genuine movement, or just the former ad man's handle?

More recently Saatchi announced the return of painting, but his two County Hall exhibitions, the Triumph of Painting parts one and two, suffered a critical mauling. In the London Evening Standard, Brian Sewell wrote that the theme was welcome, but it was a pity that he had chosen the wrong artists. The Observer's Laura Cumming, more devastatingly, suggested that Saatchi was now following taste rather than trying to form it.

The stars of the British art scene, he admits, are less obvious than they were 10 years ago. "I haven't walked into a space and seen a glass vitrine emitting a very foul smell with a dead cow rotting and flies buzzing. I haven't seen anything like that for a long, long time. The era of Damien, the Chapmans and Sarah Lucas has had its golden age. Although those artists are still doing really good art, the next generation - as all generations do - go for a completely different look and take."

He says he sees no coherence in today's artists. Perhaps, I suggest, this was as true of the YBAs: he gave those artists a coherence by buying them up. "That really isn't true. I think that something conspired to make British art suddenly probably the most exciting in the world. I think the art schools were particularly strong at that period, and a group of young artists were particularly strong at that point.

"For the last five or six years the art schools have been very weak, and I see much less good art coming out of England. That's not to say that there isn't good art coming out, it's just less thrilling." What's changed? "Budgets have been slashed and more emphasis is placed on getting paying students. When Michael Craig-Martin was there [as professor at Goldsmiths College in London], they had about four really good teachers. It makes an incredible difference. I speak to many artists who teach there, and they say their audience is there because they think it's a nice, easy gig. They're not interested, they don't see the shows, they couldn't name more than 10 artists."

Even so, Saatchi continues to visit the art schools and tiny galleries in south and east London. "I used to buy lots, but in the past five years I haven't. This year I've bought one artist out of Goldsmiths, nothing from Chelsea. It's not for want of trying."

Instead, he has been buying on the other side of the Atlantic. In October, recent fire damage permitting, the Royal Academy will mount an exhibition called USA Today, which will consist of the best of his recent purchases of American art. "America has been in the doldrums for 15 years, and for me is now as exciting as Britain was in the early 90s." Why? "I have no idea. Probably because there's been a lull, and I think after all lulls the reverse happens."

The USA Today show will feature Dana Schutz, Josephine Meckseper and Barnaby Furnas - none of them familiar names in this country. "If you were to scratch your average very hip dealer in New York, they would know half the names, and another dealer would know the other half," Saatchi says. "Over here, they're completely unknown." Will it cause a sensation, like his last Academy show? "It won't scandalise the Daily Mail. I guess I could tell [Mail editor] Paul Dacre it has a willy or two in it. That would get a headline, wouldn't it?"

If USA Today sounds like just the kind of crowd-pleasing contemporary show you would expect Saatchi to open his new Chelsea gallery with, that's because it is supposed to be. "It's a sensational building, and I've been going potty to try and get in there quickly," he says. But "the builders approached me about a month ago and said, 'Really good news. There's no asbestos. You'll be in by June [2007]. I said, 'Excuse me, but on my [web]site I'm saying early 2007.' They said, 'No, June, and if you want to see why, come round.' So I went round. And it's a huge building site."

In 2003, when part of the former GLC building on London's South Bank came up for grabs, Saatchi swooped. "It had immense foot traffic outside," he says. "It's just like Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon. So our numbers were really good." But many critics didn't like the new gallery, and the public balked at the £8 charge, particularly when Tate Modern's permanent collection, just a short stroll away, was free. "The art world was tuned to the idea that art galleries were big white spaces," says Saatchi. "So when they saw wood-pannelled corridors and rooms it didn't suit the art world's perception."

That perception was hardly Saatchi's biggest problem. "We had an incredibly hostile relationship with the landlord. Everybody who worked there was utterly miserable, morale was terrible and I was spending my whole time with lawyers, which I really don't like doing, to no avail."

Does he have any happy memories? "My best memories of County Hall are that we were very popular with schools. We must have had 1,200 to 1,300 schools come. I know I sound like some ghastly creep, but there is something enchanting about seeing groups of children sitting round a Chapman brothers piece with penises coming out of girls' eyes, drawing it very neatly to take back to their teachers."

At one point during those dismal years, Saatchi thought of offering his £200m collection to the Tate. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be much easier to give the headache of showing my collection to someone else?'" That was when he phoned his old chum Nick Serota and started up one of the great British art world rows.

"I rang up Nick and said, 'Remember when we first walked around the new Tate and you said we have the opportunity to extend it another 50%? Well I'm miserable here, I'm thinking of leaving all my stuff to the Tate.' He said, 'Those spaces are already committed.' I said, 'Oh,' and that was the end of the conversation."

Of course, this wasn't how the story was reported. Instead, Serota's refusal was seen as the latest round in a long-running feud between the two most powerful men in the British art world. Saatchi had reportedly criticised the Tate-run Turner Prize. The London Evening Standard claimed that, in 1997, the Tate approached Saatchi about acquiring work to mark Tate Modern's opening, and that the following year he offered Serota 86 works by 57 British artists - including Langland and Bell, Turner prize-winner Martin Creed, and Glenn Brown - none of which were accepted. Saatchi denies that the abrupt phone call to Serota was the latest instalment of a row fuelled by mutual loathing.

"I'm mad about Nick. Genuinely, I think he's a sensational man. So the last thing I want to do is create some friction between us. But it obviously turned into a story." Saatchi is now pleased, at least publicly, that Serota didn't accept his offer. "I think it would have been a great shame - I can do things Nick can't. I think London does need to have somewhere where very new art can be showcased."

Doesn't that leave the Tate's collection of British contemporary art looking pretty weak? "The Tate's got a lot of good stuff." That said, he is hardly a cheerleader. "I'm never going to be happy with any museum's collection because they all get their stuff in mysterious ways. They rely on gifts, which can often be of second or third rate quality, or they wait so long to get behind an artist that all the best works have ended up with people like me."

Saatchi says he has taken a self-denying ordinance to buy nothing from his Your Gallery website for six months. "I didn't want there to be any confusion about what the site was there for. I wasn't intending the site to be used for artists to present their work to any one individual. So I thought I won't stick my oar in until it has a life of its own. I've made a note of all the artists on there that I think are very good - it's a surprisingly long list."

He says he will probably launch his new gallery with an exhibition of Chinese art. "I've always been very sneery about Chinese art because it looks terribly kitsch, and a lot of it looks very derivative. But there's enough stuff to put on a good show. So far I've found six artists who I think are good on any stage. My rule is: if you can put this in the Whitney Biennial and nobody is going to say, 'Oh that's very good for a Chinese artist,' then that will be fine."

He didn't visit China to find his artists. "I don't travel. I'm very, very, very lazy. I'm going to be like one of those people who get fatter and fatter and become one with the chair, and they're found years later." Later in 2007, he plans to stage the third in his series the Triumph of Painting, as well as what remains of his BritArt collection.

It is unusual for someone to retain such enthusiasm for new art, I suggest. "Barking mad, I think is what you're trying to say. It is true, I worry about my sanity. I still take a childish pleasure in doing the same things I have been doing for a very long time. Artists are always producing new, interesting things. I don't believe this argument that everything's been done. Artists break the rules all the time. Artists make art that doesn't look like art. Nobody could foresee that someone could make art out of a cow's head and flies, a sheep in a tank of formaldehyde, or a row of girls in brand-new Nikes with penises coming out of their heads. Nobody could foresee that this was the direction art was going to take and that it would be great art."

But Charles Saatchi possessed two things nearly as rare as that foresight: the wit to realise, 16 years ago, that something extraordinary was happening in the British art world, and the savvy to buy it up fast. He got the jump on the art market once. Has he the wit to do it again? Will his exhibitions of new American and Chinese art show that Saatchi has still got it, and can flaunt it to the despair of rival collectors, disaffected artists and press critics? It seems unlikely that there is a new Damien, Jake, Dinos, Tracey or Sarah awaiting those who are keen to see what Charles bought next. Unlikely, but not impossible. Over the next few months, we will find out for sure.