“Elephant dung is so last season, darling”

Picture 2My Name Is Charles Saatchi And I Am An Artoholic is a new book published by Phaidon to co-incide with the BBC’s forthcoming search for a new British art star, co-created with Charles Saatchi. Saatchi is famously shy — he doesn’t even attend his own exhibition openings: “I don’t go to other people’s openings, so I extend the same courtesy to my own” — and generally shuns interviews, so it’s a rare chance to hear his opinions on art, life and his own talents.

The book is a series of answers to questions submitted by critics, journalists and members of the public. It’s funny, forthright and thought-provoking, but its real appeal is not its revelations — don’t ever expect Saatchi to let down his guard — but Saatchi’s own, dry, very distinctive voice. So here are a few highlights from the collection:

Perhaps your greatest legacy will be that you, more than any other, have been responsible for pitching modern and contemporary art into the UK’s cultural mainstream. Contemporary art is now discussed in taxis and government think tanks. Did you set out to achieve this from the start?

Yes.

Looking ahead; in 100 years time, how do you think British art of the early 21st century will be regarded? Who are the great artists who will pass the test of time?

General art books dated 2105 will be as brutal about editing the late 20th century as they are about almost all other centuries. Every artist other than Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Damien Hirst will be a footnote.

Why has Damien Hirst lost his inspiration?

He is a deeply gifted artist, a genius among us, but he’s had a bad run of shows over the past few years. All great artists have an off patch, and he’s having his. Usually when that happens, artists try too hard and the results look effortful and overblown. But I’m sure his next show will be a winner.

Does refurbishing Damien Hirst’s rotting shark rob it of its meaning as art?

Completely.

You’ve been successful at discovering new artistic talent. But are there not always great artists who go undiscovered?

By and large talent is in such short supply, mediocrity can be taken for genius rather more than genius can go undiscovered.

You famously created the slogan ‘Labour Isn’t Working’. Were you a Tory? Are you a Tory?

I once also threw myself into the Health Department’s Anti-Smoking campaign, visited emphysema wards, studied pictures of cancerous lungs and came up with the grisliest copy I could — puffing away happily as I wrote. How sweet of you to think that advertising copy is written from the heart.

With your former adman’s hat on for a moment, would you say that David Cameron has the X factor?

I’d rather have Simon Cowell.

Can you tell me anything about yourself that might make me like you?

But why would I care whether you like me?

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