In these glum days we have to find comfort where we can, and the Daily Telegraph tells me that Charles Saatchi has offered his collection of 200 examples of conceptual art to the nation, and the nation has refused them. The purpose of art is to make a statement about the human condition. The purpose of conceptual art is for the artist to make a statement about himself, to do with cows sawn in half, sharks pickled in formaldehyde, life-size naked figures strung up by their feet, and such-like. So the words “art” and “artist” ought to be replaced by ”quirk” and “exhibitionist” or “Narcissist.” The Daily Telegraph spells out a few names, “Jake and Dinos Chapman, the Indian artist Jitish Kallat and Tracey Emin, whose unmade bed, My Bed, came to symbolise the young British Artists movement of the 1990s.”
You have to give it to Charles Saatchi. He’s the doyen of public relations, and he was using its techniques to create a market. He’s been searching for unknown exhibitionists whose quirks he could buy at opening prices and hang in his private gallery. On the basis of sponsorship by someone so successful in the public-relations field, reputations and prices rose. Saatchi’s collection has been valued at tens of millions of pounds.
Tate Modern under its director Nicolas Serota is a home for quirks and exhibitionism but it nonetheless did not want Saatchi’s bequest. Nor did the Arts Council, the government-funded agency for the arts. Like sub-prime mortgages or Greek government bonds, conceptual art is proving just another bubble whose time to burst has come.