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Saatchi Gallery

London News: A revolutionary row at Saatchi as changes come to the Turbine Hall, Whitechapel and Wapping

Whitechapel curator goes .com, more power into art and Juan Muñoz is the next artist for Tate Modern

Gavin Turk claims misrepresentation at “Ant noises”

Over thirty years after his death at the hands of the CIA-backed Bolivian army in 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, continues to attract controversy. Last month Cuban photographer Alberto Korda won substantial damages after his famous image of the bearded Che was used to advertise vodka (see p.1). Now this image is at the centre of another row, this time between artist Gavin Turk and collector Charles Saatchi.

Originally commissioned by Channel 4 last year as part of a poster campaign to publicise their series “This is modern art”, Turk’s re-working of Korda’s classic image into a self-portrait is now on show outside the entrance to the Saatchi Gallery, plastered onto a More O’Ferrall billboard. However, what Mr Turk objects to is another version of this work, this time without a billboard and laminated onto card, which has been installed inside the gallery as part of “Ant noises 2”, in the same room as the artist’s waxwork self-portrait as the dead Che. “To all intents and purposes it was a poster commission and that is how the work should be shown—as a poster,” states Mr Turk, who declares that he was “very shocked” to visit the Saatchi Gallery two weeks before the opening of “Ant noises 2” to see “that they’ve put this thing up which is bending and scratched and which I’d never seen before.”

The “thing” in question is a version of the poster that had originally belonged to Channel 4 and which, unbenown to Mr Turk, Channel 4 had mounted onto board, removing the details advertising the television series. “It’s just a thing that they had knocking around the offices, a piece of memorabilia after the poster campaign ended,” says Mr Turk, who states that the original commission involved three posters: one for Channel 4, one for the billboard and one for the artist. However, the trouble began when Channel 4 put theirs into “Baby 2000”, a charity auction organised by Charles Saatchi’s wife Kay, which her husband then purchased.

“I made a poster, and I would have thought that its status was similar to that of a film; when you buy it, you acquire the right to show it as a poster,” states Mr Turk. “I guess Charles feels that the ‘real one’ is the one he bought at the auction and that the other poster on show outside the gallery is just publicity material, but that’s a very poor reading of the work.”

Exactly what Mr Saatchi feels is hard to ascertain, since at time of writing, the lines of communication between Charles Saatchi and Gavin Turk and his gallery, White Cube, remain closed. “It’s a complicated issue which is made even more complicated by the fact that there seems to be no possibility of having a conversation about it,” says Mr Turk. “The phones just get slammed down.” Beyond stating that “it was exactly as we bought it from the ‘Baby 2000’ auction,” a representative of the Saatchi Gallery did not wish to comment further.

Judith Nesbitt goes from Whitechapel to Eyestorm

After just over a year as head of programming at the Whitechapel Gallery, Judith Nesbitt, formerly of Chisenhale Gallery and the Liverpool Tate, is moving into the commercial sector. Last month she took the post of Head of UK Content at www.eyestorm.com, the commercial art site founded last year by David Grob and Don Smith to deal in editioned works of art, primarily prints and photography (see p.9). “It’s a different world, and the idea of stepping outside the world of the public art gallery was very attractive to me,” Ms Nesbitt told The Art Newspaper. “I will be working primarily with UK artists and I hope that we will be able to push the envelope a bit, in terms of what artists are able to do.” Many are rather surprised at the timing of Ms Nesbitt’s departure, especially with the Whitechapel celebrating its centenary next year. “We’re programmed until spring 2002 and it’s good to be moving from a system that I know and have worked in for fifteen years to something that is absolutely new. I like the contrast of leaving a gallery that is celebrating its centenary to go to a company that is not even a year old,” declares Ms Nesbitt, adding that, “I couldn’t go and work for a straightforward commercial gallery; it’s how you can connect with a new audience that isn’t coming into a real space that interests me.”

Muñoz for Tate Modern

Spectacular as it is, Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall is already acknowledged to be one of the world’s most challenging museum spaces. It may induce gasps from museum visitors, but it’s cavernous, described by one critic as “a canyon” and it is a devilishly difficult place to show art. The next artist chosen to grasp the nettle in the Unilever series is Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz, whose strangely smiling crowd of little grey men are already on show in Tate Modern’s fourth-floor galleries as part of “Between a cinema and a hard place”. Quite what Muñoz will be making to replace Louise Bourgeois’ trio of steel towers and giant spider that will come down on 26 November is still under wraps. The work will be unveiled in early June 2001 (with Tate Modern’s “Century city” show occupying the hall beforehand) However, as a contender for the International Maritime Organisation’s seafarer’s memorial on Millbank (the Art Newspaper, No.106, September 2000, p.71) Juan Muñoz is set to have a high profile in London this year and next.

New arts centre for the East End

These days it is all the rage to turn London’s defunct power stations into art centres: Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is the latest candidate. Best known to art lovers as the picturesquely derelict site for the 1996 “Intensities and surfaces” show (Anya Gallaccio’s thirty-five-ton block of melting ice), the Hydraulic Power Station takes on a new life on the 14 October as the Wapping Project which transforms the powerstation’s boiler and filter rooms into “dramatic multipurpose exhibition and performance spaces”, as well as a new bar and restaurant in the engine and turbine rooms. The brainchild of theatre director Jules Wright, the Wapping Project opens with an installation by artist Jane Prophet using 120 lengths of electro-luminescent cable suspended above the flooded floor of the former boiler house. Let us hope it enjoys the same success as its rather larger counterpart on the other side of the Thames.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'A revolutionary row at the Saatchi Gallery'