Saatchi, the press-shy advertising tycoon and voracious art collector, is about to open his private gallery at County Hall and — surprise! — he doesn’t want to talk about it. Indeed, newspapers here are betting that Saatchi won’t even turn up at the gallery’s opening bash on April 15, although his girlfriend, Nigella Lawson, is scheduled to attend.
Instead, Saatchi wants this gallery to speak for itself.
The 40,000-square-foot exhibition space currently showcases 75 works from Saatchi’s personal contemporary art collection, which is heavy on the Young British Artists — Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas —who rose to prominence in the Nineties, thanks in large part to his largess. Saatchi plans to curate three to four exhibitions a year at the gallery himself, drawing on his private collection, which boasts about 2,500 works, and bringing in smaller shows from around the world that pique his interest. The inaugural show, up for six months, is the first Hirst retrospective.
County Hall, built at the start of the 20th century in Edwardian Baroque style, served as a former headquarters of the left-wing Greater London Council. Now, in its central circular gallery — a former debating chamber — the YBA’s greatest hits are on display, including Emin’s "My Bed," Chris Ofili’s controversial "The Holy Virgin Mary," decorated with dung, and Hirst’s "Love Lost," a tiger shark in formaldehyde that Saatchi commissioned.
Between the ground floor and second floor, Hirst’s jaunty polka-dotted "Spot Mini" is parked halfway down the marble staircase. The rooms that line the hallways each boast a fireplace, a Bakelite clock and one work of art. Sadly, though, Hirst’s pigs and sheep in formaldehyde look lonely in these formal, yawning spaces. To better ends, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s eerie gelatin-silver prints of Henry VIII and his wives sit well with the gallery’s dark paneled walls and parquet floors.