Taking the Mickey out of Saatchi
Waxwork sculptor lampoons modern art's most influential and notorious collector in new book
Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent
Sunday November 18, 2007
It is a novel way of undermining a powerful figure, but artist Robert Gordon McHarg III has published a book which features 101 different photographs of Charles Saatchi wearing a variety of silly and sinister costumes.
The small book, with the title HIM, repeatedly shows the face and upper body of what appears to be the country's most influential art collector. In fact the succession of arresting images were created by simply dressing a larger-than-life waxwork figure of Saatchi in a series of bizarre outfits. In one of the McHarg shots the art mogul is dressed as a PC Plod-style copper from Toy Town, in the next he is a cowboy, while in another the Baghdad-born former star of the advertising industry is shown in the uniform and red beret commonly associated with Saddam Hussein. Perhaps the most telling photograph in the book though, depicts Saatchi wearing a large round pair of black mouse ears above the inscription Mickey Him. McHarg, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, has explained that his impulse to ridicule, or at least play with, the persona of a man who is frequently accused by artists of playing games with the contemporary art market was prompted by the hope that he could make a stand against the current concentration on the price of modern art pieces.
'The idea was to make an artwork that wasn't for sale,' he said. 'In a sense, it's the artist collecting the collector. A David and Goliath battle over power and punchlines.'
When the 42-year-old artist from Quebec first made his waxwork replica of Saatchi, brother of the former chairman of the Conservative Party, Maurice Saatchi, he said he immediately decided not to part with it. 'It is the one piece of art that Charles Saatchi won't buy,' he has since said. 'Saatchi is only interested in what he buys. It is all about him.'
The book publisher says Saatchi's 'influence to form opinion and success on new artists is unparalleled. His reputation as quietly moving though studios, galleries and art fairs snapping up those that take interest and dropping those of who he has had enough, makes him equally loved and loathed'.
McHarg has never actually met the reclusive art collector, who lives with television cook and food writer Nigella Lawson. He managed to create his life-like model by studying some of the few available photographs and by watching the BBC's recent Imagine documentary about Saatchi, made by Alan Yentob.
In creating the pictures in HIM, which is punningly designed to resemble a hymn book and is published by Trolley Books at £14.99, McHarg has found a way to make some profit from his initial idea.
McHarg, who also paints stones, can claim to be an underground artist in more ways than one because the London gallery he founded last year is hidden below ground in a former subway kiosk somewhere between the Harrow Road and Edgware Road. Called Subway Gallery, it houses contemporary art shows as well as the original Saatchi waxwork. The gallery has recently been used as a location for a Vogue fashion shoot with model Lily Cole. It is not thought that Saatchi himself has ever visited McHarg's gallery, although he could, of course, have already come along in disguise.