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Home > Media

Some Comfort Gained From The Acceptance Of The Inherent Rubbishness Of Landlords*

4 October 2005

That unholy cackling you hear is Sir Nicholas Serota, curator of Tate Modern on the South Bank, as Charles Saatchi prepares to gather up his motley bunch of beds and mouse-balls and slope off to Chelsea. The Saatchi Gallery, having occupied the first floor of County Hall for only a couple of years, is upping sticks. When we read that this was due to a landlord dispute, we assumed that it was one of those South Bank premium real-estate money things - dreary old financial squabblings, like the ones over the London Eye's rent, no more scintillating than a snotty letter from the bank. But it transpires that poor Mr Nigella has in fact been beseiged by some sort of Japanese Rigsby on crack.

The magnificent old GLC HQ which currently houses the Saatchi collection was snapped up in 1993 by the Shirayama Shokusan Corporation, and its European head is one Makota Okamoto. Makota Okamoto is, quite frankly, absolutely batshit. Two years after his company moved in, he prevented veterans from laying a wreath at County Hall's memorial, rebutting the outraged cries for an explanation with 'We own the building and we can do what we like with it. Why should I tell you why?' He was also accused of subjecting his female general manager to a flurry of sexist and racist comments, describing British women as 'bloody fat pigs'. He later excused himself thus; 'I never said that English women were fat pigs. I never used that word. My [British] wife is 49 and she has quite slim legs.' Well, that's alright, then.

A really super, amiable chap, then. But it's in his alleged torment of Saatchi and his staff during their abortive tenure where Okamoto comes into his own. Hell, it's almost *art* - in that situationist, the-urge-to-destroy-is-creative, anger-is-an-energy way. According to the Guardian site, he's been 'accused in the past of kicking a sculpture of a sleeping homeless person by Gavin Turk, of denying visitors entrance to the disabled lavatory, and of swearing at gallery staff.'

Brilliant. Totally inexcusable. Pathetic. Thanks to this childish, perverse throwing-about of weight and the 'malevolent atmosphere' engendered, the South Bank is losing a valuable attraction, and modern art is again scuttling away from an accessible spot to an obscure corner. With the gallery slap in the middle of touristland, snuggled up to the London Eye and settled atop the Aquarium, people who might otherwise have heeded tabloid insistence that the whole thing is a nonsense and a half found themselves venturing in. They could go from looking at live sharks to peering at a tattered dead one in formaldehyde that they recognised from the papers - once confronted with the thing, feeling that little frisson of pleasure at being close to a very famous object, they'd realise that there was more to it. They'd feel funny. They'd have a think - not necessarily about 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living', but just about the amazingly porous qualities of objects, their ability to affect you. Then they'd go and look at the giant picture of Myra Hindley made with children's handprints, and have a stand-up row about its implications and be escorted out by stewards - y'know, they'd have a good day out.

Of course people will be able to goggle at Saatchi's stuff in the Duke Of York's Headquarters on the King's Road, which until recently played host to the Territorial Army; but not until 2007, and not with the same innocent spontaneity, the same holiday-drunk what-the-hell-ishness. The media enjoyed the friction between Saatchi and Serota, but really they were on the same side, aiming to, well, bring modern art to the people. So it's a shame. But with any luck, Chris Ofili will donate a little leftover elephant dung from his latest work, to be set alight and placed on Okamoto's doorstep in a bag.

*After the Hirst one with the sliced cows. It's great, that one.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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