New Release: Be The Worst You Can Be, Life’s Too Long For Patience and Virtue by Charles Saatchi
‘Only when you accept that much of the pleasure in being alive is to enjoy your own horribleness, and the character flaws in everyone around you, will you find harmony and each day will pass more sweetly’ Charles Saatchi counsels one reader who questions how to achieve fulfilment in life.
Saatchi dare not ask his PA what she thinks of him, which is probably wise for someone audacious enough to publish a book advising readers to be the worst they can be. Life Is Too Long For Patience And Virtue for Mr Saatchi. The sarky snippet above is just one in a series of controversial suggestions discussing Saatchi’s own flammable views.
Saatchi, co-founder of global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi has been at the forefront of contemporary art collecting for quite some time. Tracey Emin’s infamous tent piece ‘Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’ and Marc Quinn’s ‘Self’, a cast of the artist’s own head formed from nine pints of Quinn’s own blood, have both passed through his hands, and he was once the powerful owner of 17 Andy Warhols. Saatchi is a pretty big deal.
His new publication follows the format of the ad-man turned art-collector’s first book My Name Is Saatchi and I Am An Artoholic, comprising Saatchi’s answers to over 300 questions from readers and journalists; essentially, a lengthy interview which, as a recluse, is usually something Saatchi is reluctant to agree to. It is a typical Saatchi move. Instead of complying with greedy press on a regular basis, Saatchi offers himself up on a platter once every few years and is gorged by the public as excitement builds and book-sales soar. It appears the Don Draper of London’s ad-scene, has moved on from Silk Cut and Maggie Thatcher, and is now expertly advertising himself.
What results is a rather beautifully-bound black leather volume with sparkling gold pages that seem gloriously dipped in sin, and inside, Saatchi discusses everything from death-row dinners to divorce, to the ‘hideousness’ of the art world. He doesn’t hold back. In Saatchi’s world marriage is a ‘flawed ideology’ which should be illegal, hypocrisy is a failed enterprise of politics, and euthanasia should be mandatory for people in the art world. It is outspoken, pompous, self-centred, and wonderful.
Yes, the book gathers laughs like a desperate comedian in front of an empty stage, and yes some of Saatchi’s answers sound like the tipsy guffaws of those dim, upper middle-class men who lack the intelligence to make a decent joke (‘Wives make excellent housekeepers. They always manage to keep the house. Boom boom!’), but largely it manages to be very amusing (in a coffee-table book sort of way), and succeeds in giving a genuinely interesting insight into the art scene that Saatchi knows like the back of his hand.
Ever wondered why France is such a poor market for contemporary art? Saatchi reckons French artists are too romantic in a ‘sentimentally cloying way, too mired in the glories of their past’, and that ‘they have been paralysed with insecurity since the birth of Abstract Expressionism in New York, unable for decades now to create anything sparked by the present day’.
‘The contemporary art world has become the sport of the Eurotrashy, Hedgefundy, Hamptonites’
At the opposite end of the scale, he discusses the embarrassment he feels towards the ‘comprehensively and indisputably vulgar’ nature of the contemporary art world, outlining how it has become ‘the sport of the Eurotrashy, Hedgefundy, Hamptonites; of trendy Oligarchs and Oiligarchs; and of art dealers with masturbatory levels of self-regard’. Whether dubious or jealous, Saatchi is clearly anxious about the future of art collecting now it has become a competition for the super-rich- a category he seems bizarrely unwilling to include himself in.
For Saatchi-critics (and let’s face it, there are a fair few), you will be glad to read that several questions aimed towards the man that made famous Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, are tinged with the bitter sting of disdain. Yet Saatchi’s replies seem less scarred than flippant, and he even appears to be quite impressed by insult. When it is suggested that the public would prefer to see the ‘perverted’ artists Saatchi brags about ‘left to rot’, his defence states that he could do some soul-searching, but fears he wouldn’t find one. When it is suggested that his answers to serious questions prove him a complete moron, soulless-Saatchi breezes that ‘things could be worse. Officially, a moron has higher intelligence than an imbecile, followed by an idiot’; a reply that undoubtedly caused the enquirer to wring their own neck in traumatized frustration.
As for this review, and the voices of his critics, I’m dubious whether Saatchi much cares. He believes his views to be idiosyncratic: ‘If they’re approving, I fear that the exhibition must be pedestrian. If they’re disobliging, I feel for the critic, who is clearly unenlightened about contemporary art, insecure about a lack of visual perceptiveness, a crabby soul, for whom it would be a kindness to cut short a morose, sour life’, a perspective he imagines to be perfectly balanced, as you might expect.
Despite this, Be The Worst You Can Be is a reckless little jewel of a book, spilling with style, argument and hilarity and dribbling with Saatchi anecdote and autobiography. No it’s not going to send literary ripples through the publishing world, but Saatchi is one of those Jeremy-Clarkson type figures that people hate to love, and is unavoidable. Plus there’s no point trying to escape him. An ex-girlfriend once broke up with him by spitting, ‘you have the IQ of lint, and the thought that terrifies me most is that someone may hate me the way I loathe you’. Saatchi was so impressed, he asked her to take him back.
Things you didn’t know about Charles Saatchi…
Does money buy happiness?
When I’ve seen a rich man get rich, his next ambition is to get richer.
What constitutes success?
How would you describe yourself if you did not have art in your life?
Bored, and just another rich dullard.
Worst insult ever paid?
‘You are no longer beneath my contempt’.
Saatchi defies anyone to…?
Sit through more than 20 minutes of an Adam Sandler film.
Choice of death row dinner would be?
Roast pheasant, Dauphinoise potatoes and Chateau Latour.
Would like obituary to read?
Be The Worst You Can Be- Life’s Too Long For Patience and Virtue by Charles Saatchi is out now with Booth-Clibborn Editions.
Words: Lucy Holden