Can you name the Saatchi Gallery’s previous locations? Boundary Road, St John’s Wood 1985-99 and County Hall, Waterloo 2003-06 are the obvious ones prior to the Chelsea opening in 2008, but add in the interim Underwood Road, Hoxton (2000-02) and you have a satisfying quartet forming a square around central London. The gallery also built up a formidable online presence, though Saatchi Online was sold in 2014 and is now a separate business. Boundary Road became famous, of course, as where Charles Saatchi showed his own collection: a stellar range of Americans in the 1980’s, the YBAs in the 90’s. Was that to share his enthusiasms to public benefit, or to promote his wares prior to auctioning them off? Interpretations differ. Indeed, it used to be a principle that Saatchi owned everything on display.
That hasn’t applied in recent years, and the shift in approach was formalised in 2019 when the gallery became a registered charity ‘committed to supporting artists and rendering contemporary art accessible to all’. The impressive fifteen large rooms across four floors of the former military building now feature a mix of free-to-view exhibitions sponsored by other galleries (currently BEERS London) and charged-for blockbuster-style presentations. Those major shows have ranged from Tutankhamun’s treasures to street art to the current museum-worthy combination ‘If Not Now, When? Generations of Women in Sculpture in Britain 1960-2023’ and ‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Boundless’. Next up (from 14 Feb) is the biggest UK show yet from leading photographer Edward Burtynsky, which also promises well. And all of the busy programme gets – rather impressively – de-installed and re-installed every now and again to allow art fairs to take place. The gallery opens 56 hours per week but is also closed for other reasons on occasion: my tip is to check on the website before visiting.
London’s gallery scene is varied, from small artist-run spaces to major institutions and everything in between. Each week, art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent gives a personal view of a space worth visiting.