I am not a fan of the suffix "-oholic" because it doesn't make enough sense to come off as clever. And though Charles Saatchi, the rich and (in)famous ad man and art collector, claims not to be very clever, he clearly knew what he was doing when he published a long interview in pocket-sized book form, thoroughly answering the public's questions about his life, his philosophies, and his art world activities for the first time ever. The questions were contributed over the years by a handful of British newspapers, and Saatchi finally sat down and answered them safely in front of his computer, rather than on the spot in front of a crowd of harsh critics.
He's been criticized for making and breaking artists' careers, but he finally reveals the truth about his socially anxious, Starbucks-loving, passionate personality in his new book, My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic: Everything you need to know about art, ads, life, God, and other mysteries -- and weren't afraid to ask.. I developed a slight obsession with the collector when his ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, opened an office across the street from mine in San Francisco. As soon as they landed in the neighborhood, their building was promptly painted with giant polka-dots, à la the dot paintings by one of the artists whose career Saatchi helped launch, the once Young British Artist (a.k.a. YBA), Damien Hirst. After reading some snarky excerpts from Saatchi's new book online, I was hungry for more Saatchiisms (and Britishisms -- ever heard the term "clever-clogs?" It's British for "smarty pants") and snatched up the book, which costs no more than a movie ticket.
Saatchi is full of himself, but at least he admits it. In response to a question about whether he has been treated unfairly by the UK press, he says "If you can't take a good kicking, you shouldn't parade how much luckier you are than other people." When asked about his intentions with the book, he admits he is "desperate for something" because he's finally responding to all these questions, but that it "certainly isn't celebrity," though he does casually mention his new BBC reality television series Saatchi's Art Stars (a.k.a. Saatchi's Best of British) more than once.
His pomposity is balanced by self-deprecating humor, and I enjoyed reading Saatchi's side of scandalous stories from the art world. In 1999, an exhibition of work from his collection called Sensation, traveled to New York where it was highly controversial due to artist Chris Ofili's Virgin Mary, a mixed-media image of a black Madonna embellished with the artist's signature clod of elephant dung. The exhibit caused a lawsuit and countersuit between then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and The Brooklyn Museum, and the museum's city funding was temporarily withdrawn as a result. It was assumed that Saatchi banked on the drama to increase the selling power of the artwork, but it's no surprise that the same exhibit didn't cause any fuss when shown on the other side of the pond. I'm digressing here because you may not know that similarly, in San Francisco, Gilbert & George's exhibition at the de Young Museum required warning plaques that were unnecessary at museums in the UK -- when it comes to art, we're total prudes over here.
Though ego-driven and bold, Saatchi does seem to have a deep respect for artists. He created Saatchi Online, a web site where anyone can display and sell their artwork. And I appreciated his favorable description of truly talented artists and his reminder that there should be "no talk of temperamental, self-absorbed and petulant babies. Being a good artist is the toughest job you could pick, and you have to be a little nuts to take it on." While it's bothersome that he claims only Pollock, Warhol, Judd, and his boy Hirst will go down in history (according to Saatchi, every other artist "will be a footnote"), he may, unfortunately, be right.
I'm not sure how you'd get an answer but at the end of the book, you are invited to send your own questions for Saatchi via email. But don't ask him if he thinks you're a real art collector (I thought I was) because I already know his answer: not unless you have so much art that you require an extra storage unit. Speaking of storage units, Saatchi's most venomous answer was spat out when asked if he himself was the arsonist behind a vicious warehouse fire that consumed several works from his collection: "It wasn't terrifically amusing the first time dull people came up with this. Now it's the 100th time." Oh, snap! Dullards beware: Saatchi will shut you down.
Buy the book at Phaidon.