Associate Lecturer with the Open University, Barry Venning is an acknowledged expert on the artist JMW Turner. As well as writing a book on Turner for publisher Phaedon (a book which sold 27,000 copies), Barry has published a study of John Constable’s paintings. However, rather than hearing about Turner, WaikatoDFAS asked Barry to ask on another area of interest – the art works of Charles Saatchi. The committee settled upon the topic long before Saatchi hit the headlines for his treatment of Nigella Lawson. We decided to continue with the Saatchi lecture as, whatever the issues of his personal life, his art collection is interesting.
Barry is in New Zealand touring as a NADFAS lecturer for the New Zealand’s Decorative and Fine Arts Societies. He looked a bit pale when, on Thursday, we told him the news that there had been a significant earthquake in Wellington, his next destination. We hope his journey is not proving too terrifying, as Barry has arrived in Wellington to speak both at Te Papa (New Zealand’s national museum) and at Wellington DFAS’s meeting. The region has continued to throw some unpleasant aftershocks. Barry will, no doubt, be pleased to be heading home to England when his lecture tour finishes in the next day or so.
Barry is an engaging lecturer – energetic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. He generously spent time with Kiwicommunicator the day after the lecture reiterating some key points.
About Saatchi – Saatchi started his work with an entry level job with an ad agency in London, clipping the firm’s advertisements from newspapers as proof to clients that their ad had been published. From there, he became a copywriter, with his early work largely based on other people’s copywriting.
Saatchi got together with Ross Cramer to form Cramersaatchi. His ground-breaking “What if men could become pregnant?” ad belongs to this period.
In 1970, with his brother Maurice, he formed Saatchi & Saatchi. Maurice worked on the account of Michael Heseltine, who challenged Margaret Thatcher. The British electoral system deemed television election ads to be unlawful, so Maurice’s clever billboard campaigns for Heseltine put Saatchi & Saatchi on the map. The business acquired other companies and expanded worldwide, including to Auckland, New Zealand where the agency ran from a stunningly redeveloped industrial building in Parnell.
In 1969, Charles Saatchi started collecting art works – not one off pieces, but entire exhibitions of up-and-coming artists in Britain. Saatchi became an influential patron whose purchases, according to Barry Venning, could instantly add a zero to the sum artists could charge for their work. His decision to offload en masse the work of a given artist could, on the other hand, instantly drop the value of the artist’s work.
Barry took DFAS guests through a number of art works which have shown at various times in Saatchi’s gallery. The images he shared were sometimes bewildering, often disturbing, nearly always challenging. New Zealand art commentator Justin Paton offers the view that a possible criteria for assessing artistic value is the level at which an art work is thought-provoking. On that basis, look out for some interesting works in Kiwicommunicator’s next post.