London, April 14 (Reuters): Pickled sharks and soiled beds took centre stage with the launch of millionaire Charles Saatchi’s new BritArt gallery in the heart of London.
Paintings smeared with elephant dung, sculptured heads full of blood, flies buzzing round putrid cows — the shock troops of BritArt have created a cocktail of sex, death and body parts.
The reclusive Saatchi, 59, who made his fortune in advertising with his brother Maurice, has over the past two decades amassed a collection of more than 2,000 pieces.
Saatchi almost single-handedly made the reputation of Damien Hirst, of pickled sheep and sharks fame, and Tracey Emin with her soiled bed covered in champagne corks and used condoms.
The gallery, which hopes to attract up to 7,50,000 visitors a year, is housed on the banks of the River Thames in the ornate and cavernous halls of County Hall, the seat of London's government from 1912 to 1987.
The monumental granite building overlooks the Houses of Parliament and is dwarfed by the London Eye ferris wheel, two of the capital’s biggest attractions.
Saatchi Gallery spokesman William Miller defended the reputation of BritArt, lambasted in the past by critics who said the artists were merely trying to shock for the sake of it.
“We get phone calls every week from major art galleries around the world who want to see these works,” he told Reuters on the gallery’s international media day.