June 22, 2006

Reclusive Art Mogul Saatchi Sets Up Virtual Gallery

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON -- Reclusive British modern art mogul Charles Saatchi, credited with creating the BritArt boom of the 1990s, has set up a virtual gallery on the Internet to let unknown artists from around the world showcase their work.

With price records in the classical art market toppling almost daily, Saatchi's Your Gallery has in just three weeks gone from empty space to holding works by some 5,000 artists in 60 countries from China to the United States.

Some of the works have changed hands at prices of up to 100,000 pounds ($184,000), and there is no fee and no commission.

"Many artists find it very hard to break into the gallery world. If they don't have the connections or aren't skilled at selling themselves, even good artists can struggle," Saatchi said in a statement to Reuters.

"This site is intended to create a community of artists who can easily show their work to a global audience of collectors, dealers and curators on a level playing field," he added.

It was interest from Saatchi that made unknown artists like Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst -- with their dirty beds and pickled quadrupeds -- household names and turned their works into global gold dust.

It is not known if he has bought any of the works on the Web site. Apart from keeping his name in the public eye, Saatchi gets no other benefit from his virtual gallery.

There is no vetting procedure for the works that span the full visual range from sculpture to installation and video to the more traditional mediums of paint and photography.

"That would destroy the whole idea behind the concept," a spokesman for Saatchi said. "It is open to all comers and gives artists whose works may never otherwise be seen access to an audience numbered in millions."

Your Gallery on Saatchi's www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk Web site is already averaging 1.7 million hits a day as artists, dealers and the public trawl, chat to each other and appraise the works.

Not surprisingly, not all dealers are happy as while it gives them armchair access to new talent the direct-to-public selling process cuts them out and means they earn no fees.

"The big dealers will always be there because they have the art world connections to promote an artist," Saatchi's spokesman said.

"But the other side of the coin is that it allows artists to sell direct so it could be a problem in the longer term for the smaller dealers. I do recollect that they were not entirely favorable to the site when it started."