In recent times, publicly subsidised art galleries and museums have been subjected to immense pressure to operate more like private businesses, which is a particular feature of the transition from organised to neoliberal capitalism. Jim McGuigan’s lecture looks at a specific development in the art world that takes the neoliberal usurpation of the public sector in the cultural field further and, in this case, literally replaces it: the Saatchi phenomenon and the promotion (and sale) of cool art in general.
The lecture focuses upon the third Saatchi Gallery in London and its partnership with Phillips de Pury & Company. It looks at the deconstruction-entitled, British Art Now exhibition that was put on at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in 2009 before arriving at the Saatchi Gallery in 2010, where it then ran in two parts until spring 2011. In the summer of 2010, Charles Saatchi had already announced his intention of to turning the Saatchi Gallery in its third manifestation at the Duke of York Headquarters in Chelsea into the “Museum of Contemporary Art London” and of donating 200 works from his personal collection to the nation. Over the past twenty to thirty years, Saatchi has performed the hybrid role of patron/dealer for what was once labeled “Young British Art”, which is discussed here as an exemplary instance of cool-capitalist culture. Cool capitalism is the incorporation of disaffection - and especially signs of disaffection - into capitalism itself. Although Saatchi’s activity in this respect has been a private and profit-making enterprise, he has been able to, in effect, usurp the public sector’s role in the legitimisation of new art. The lecture includes a discussion of cool-capitalist art as represented in the work and art-world significance of Damien Hirst. It offers a critical reading of two of his most famous works, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991/2006) and For the Love of God (2007).