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Book Review: Question

Rarely has one man left such an indelible stamp on two worlds as Charles Saatchi has. He was one of advertising’s brighter copywriters. And, of course, he is the enfant terrible of the art world — the man who can make or bake artists.

books Updated: Mar 06, 2010 13:32 IST
Swapan Seth

Rarely has one man left such an indelible stamp on two worlds as Charles Saatchi has. He was one of advertising’s brighter copywriters. And, of course, he is the enfant terrible of the art world — the man who can make or bake artists.

I have been a great fan of Saatchi’s. When his first book, My Name Is Charles SaatchiAndI Am An Artoholic, was published, I expected a tome that traced his life between advertising and art. But no. Saatchi had little to say about his life in advertising. At one level that disappointed me. At another, I could relate to it. You may belong to two worlds. But ultimately you live in one.

Saatchi was never a practitioner of long body copy ads. His was the one-line wonder: ‘Labour isn’t working’. His book was all of that. A series of questions and answers on various aspects of life. His latest book, Question, is a sequel to the first one. I wonder why he published it as it’s nothing but a continuation of the format of the first book. In Question, however, the range of topics on which Saatchi presides is vast. He apologises to his old maid Helga for hitting on her when he was 17; the Damien Hirst-Jeff Koons-bashing continues. As does his understandable obsession with his wife, the celebrity cook, Nigella Lawson. He also discusses drugs back when he was in the ad business.

The book is a tad all over the place. Phaidon could have catalogued it a bit better. But the man’s wit and sheer arrogance makes it an interesting read. Some nuggets:

“What were your ambitions when you started out?”
“I very much wanted to learn to walk.”
“Do you think art speaks a universal language or sometimes gets lost in translation?”
“Lsto ni rantslation.”
“What keeps you interested in the art world?”
“I am not interested in the art world. I’m interested in art.”

Question is a racy read. For those who wish to know just about everything they can about Charles Saatchi, this book is essential. But if Saatchi trivia is not for you, you can pass the book by.

I can see a pattern emerging in Saatchi’s book writing. As in his buying of art, he is being a bit too prolific. Perhaps a third one titled My Name Is Charles Saatchi And I Am A Writeaholic soon? Hell, no.

Swapan Seth is Managing Partner of the art house, Henry S. Clark & Co.