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Book Review
Peeping into a reclusive collector’s mind
Charles Saatchi, one of the pre-eminent collectors of his generation, will be gifting over 200 artworks from his personal collection as well as the world-renowned Saatchi Gallery to the nation. He still possesses hundreds of pieces that will be handed to his family. The works to be donated to MOCA London are valued over £25m at their current market value. (For record, one among them is ‘Public Notice 2’ by Jitish Kallat). The famed gallery will be renamed as the Museum of Contemporary Art.

What is it that the world-famous collector looks for before buying a work? Is there any logic or pattern to what he buys and sells? Does he hold himself responsible for the speculative touch to today’s art market? If you wish to get an insight into the world’s most influential art expert’s mindset and philosophy, ‘My Name Is Charles Saatchi And I Am An Artoholic’ (164 pages; Publishers: Phaidon Press) is a must read for you. It reveals almost everything you want to know about the maverick collector and the mad ad-man.

The copy comprises a series of rapid-fire questions, often unrelated to the one put before followed by a quick answer on a wide range of topics like ads, art, god, life etc. He provides an insight into his lifestyle and thinking with quotes on almost any subject under the sun so ‘no biographer or journalist need ever waste his time by phoning or emailing him again’. “They can now simply write what they wish to write and feed in the relevant quotes,” he quips.

Averse to grabbing spotlight, Charles Saatchi seldom attends the openings of exhibits at his own gallery. His practice of acquiring works of emerging artists has proved contagious, arguably the greatest influence on the contemporary market. Several other new investors and even veteran collectors are following his lead. However, the maverick collector does not like to give interviews and, if he does so, he says as little as possible.

MNICSAIAAA gives you a precious opportunity to fathom his way of functioning as a collector. An introduction to the book states: “Famously reclusive, he has answered with brutal frankness questions put to him by journalists, critics and the general public. With unflinching honesty he airs his opinions on collecting, artists, dealers, advertising, how to invest in art and his favorite recipe.”

What is his secret of collecting, investing and buying art? In one of the rare elaborate interviews, he reveals: “Artists need all kinds of collectors, buying their art. I never think too much about the market. I don't mind paying three or four times the market value of a work that I really want. As far as taste is concerned, I primarily buy art in order to show it off. So it's important for me that the public respond to it and contemporary art in general. There is no logic or pattern I can rely on to decide what to sell and when to sell it.”

In keeping with his peculiar persona, he has opted to structure the book in a curious way. A stylishly minimal page layout marks this functional paperback with a jacket, which dispenses with any images. There’s just a passing nod to narrative. The justification is: ‘Why bother write a coherent narrative when there's far more value in creating the mystique of the naive?’

Charles Saatchi states he's answering the queries he's been asked several times before and never bothered to answer previously. Limiting himself to a straight Q & A format means he doesn't have to reveal anything he chooses not to. It also means that he gets to pick the questions and even the answers. The most revealing bit of the book is when he says that ‘what makes his flesh crawl is reading about myself!’ So why has he felt the need to take up with exercise? It is because the art fraternity has been pestering him for several years and would have probably continued ‘to pester me for several more years.’

He remarks: “This way I can get everyone off my back in one hit. It's also why I did it as a paperback. I'm not interested in making money out of this. I'm a very controlling man. I can't stand the idea of anyone knowing anything but the bare minimum about me. All that anyone is ever going to get out of me is now in the public domain. I just want to be left alone. So please do.” And what is advice to the fellow collectors? It’s simple; nobody can give you advice after you've been collecting for a while. If you don't enjoy making your own decisions, you're never going to be much of a collector anyway…