D'Offay art collection
Sale of the Century
What does £100 million worth of art look like? Scotland is soon going to find out, as it prepares to take part ownership of dealer Anthony d’Offay’s collection. Nick Barley looks at some of the gems on offer, to find out where the real value lies.
Last week provided an undeniably momentous moment in the history of British art. The landmark joint announcement by Tate and the Scottish National Galleries that Britain’s two largest public collections of contemporary art will join forces to acquire the collection of Anthony d’Offay, means that a vast gap in the nation’s art collection will finally be plugged. 50 years ago, weak directors of the National Galleries of Modern Art in both London and Edinburgh failed to purchase works by the young practitioners of Modern Art, even though at the time they were relatively affordable. Now, of course, the best works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha and Gerhard Richter are beyond the reach of our national collections thanks to their astronomical market values. Unless, that is, wealthy private collectors like Anthony d’Offay come along and make a donation. Thanks to d’Offay’s astute purchase of work by artists when their prices were still within reach - and a lifetime of buying and selling art at the highest levels - d’Offay has built a collection of considerable strength. His links to Edinburgh stretch back to University days and for several years, frustrated by a perceived lack of interest from London, d’Offay has been lending work to the National Galleries of Scotland. His collection has formed the core of many shows here in recent years, including Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Anselm Kieffer and of course the current Ron Mueck and Robert Mapplethorpe exhibitions.
Are all of the d’Offay works of a truly international standard? Here we take a snapshot of the collection, and make a wishlist of the work we’d like to see on display in Scotland.
The master of the mass produced image, Warhol made silk-screened self-portraits that defined the direction of late-20th century art. Beautiful, political, and hugely important. Verdict If Scotland gets nothing else, let it be these.
Undoubtedly a popular choice, this artist’s work holds the kind of interest of a Natural History Museum specimen. But the only real interest is in the changes of scale. Will the next one be big? Or really small?
Verdict Would look fine in Madame Tussauds
The Yorkshire lad enjoyed most of the YBA glory - and nearly all the tabloid wrath. But stand in front of them, and these formaldehyde wonders have an enduring power because of their morbid fascination with death.
Verdict Great. We’re bagsying this one for Scotland
It may be heretical to utter it, but some of the mythological and zoological ponderings of this German artist are overrated. Not this piece, however.
Verdict Tate’s already got a fantastic Beuys collection, so surely we should get this one
Quite simply the most original, the most talented and the most exciting artist living and working anywhere in the world today. To have some of these in the national collection is beyond a miracle.
Verdict Nauman’s work is worth £100m on its own
With this piece, Koons makes a serious point about consumer culture. These Hoovers stand for a moment in the 1960s when they were the height of domestic desire. Koons’s point remains powerful even now.
Verdict Art of this calibre is just what Scotland needs
More Jeff Koons
Koons’ relationship with Italian porn star La Cicciolina resulted in some of the most blatantly pornographic art of the late-20th century. But this is lump of po-mo softcore in which La Cicc resembles a blow up doll.
Verdict Nice to have a Koons, but not this one
Always a winner. Gorgeous, serious, effortless, Ruscha is a true hero of contemporary American art.
Verdict Hands off, Sir Nick.
Like the Koons piece, the Mapplethorpe photos in d’Offay’s collection appear rather demure. But these are more than simply society portraits of 1970s New York, thanks the artist’s great compositional ability.
Verdict They’re here now, and we’re keeping them