Scotland to share in a treasure trove of art

MORE than 40 years ago he was an undergraduate art student who gazed in awe at the paintings in Scotland's leading galleries of art.

Decades on, and after a career as one of the most successful art dealers in the UK, Anthony d'Offay could see major art works he has collected himself hang alongside the Scottish National Galleries' finest works.

In a partnership announced yesterday, the National Galleries of Scotland and London's Tate Gallery teamed up to acquire paintings and sculptures assembled by D'Offay - one of the world's largest holdings of contemporary art.

With details yet to be thrashed out, D'Offay has agreed "in principle" to a deal. It would give the galleries shared control of several hundred works of art, including "roomfuls" of work by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Joseph Beuys and others. The collection would also be made available to other galleries across Scotland and the UK in a bid to bring contemporary art to a wider, younger audience.

Born in Sheffield, D'Offay, now 66, was an art student at Edinburgh University, and fell in love with the collections on The Mound. Although his home and former gallery are in London, D'Offay has retained close links with Scotland, and has a house in the Highlands. He also enjoys a close working relationship with Richard Calvocoressi, director of the Scottish National Gallery of Art, and is a friend of Bridget McConnell, the Glasgow culture and leisure services chief. Her husband Jack McConnell, the First Minister, was among those who made the case for bringing the collection to Scotland.

Yesterday's announcement leaves many questions unanswered, among them what exactly is on offer in the collection, where it will be housed and how much it will cost. The Tate director, Nicholas Serota, says the figure will be over 10 million, but would not be drawn further.

Last year D'Offay, a leading art dealer for 40 years before he closed his London gallery in 2001, said publicly he "100 percent" wanted his collection to come to Scotland. There was talk of a new gallery in Edinburgh to house it, with an industrial building in Leith named as a possible site.

The directors of the two galleries are at pains to argue Scotland hasn't lost out, saying their joint move would save the collection for Britain, and transform Scotland's holdings of contemporary art. Scottish National Galleries director John Leighton says a joint deal is more "realistic and feasible".

Newspaper reports estimate D'Offay's collection is worth nearly 100 million, and he is offering it to the two galleries on a part-gift, part-sale basis.

It includes work from such artists as Diane Arbus, Georg Baselitz, Gilbert & George, Jeff Koons and Ed Ruscha. Having acted as a dealer for several of the artists, D'Offay has collected their works in depth, rather than cherry-picking single pieces. The result is "rooms" of work by each artist.

Already, his connection with the National Galleries of Scotland has seen the D'Offay collection works underpin major exhibitions, notably the Ron Mueck show on the Mound this summer.

Leighton says D'Offay had been courted by galleries around the world, but that "he stuck doggedly to his loyalty to Scotland in the face of other offers".

The talks with the Tate were launched in March, when he took over as director, says Leighton. "The suggestion came first from Anthony d'Offay, but it's something we embraced wholeheartedly. I have worked closely with Nicholas Serota in the past."

The joint approach will bring a "robust partnership" with one of the best modern art museums in the world, and give the Scottish galleries access to the Tate collections, he adds.

"We will be equal partners with the Tate in London. Instead of saying we have lost it, we should turn that around and say this looks like a spectacular win.

"This is an amazing resource that could completely transform how modern and contemporary art is shown in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

"As you know, the Tate has been working primarily in England and south of the Border. This be a major new alliance which would allow us to exploit the collections to the full."

The D'Offay works will enhance shows in Edinburgh and London, and act as a resource for exhibitions across the entire country. The galleries will soon launch a fundraising drive, and say they hope to have the details of their agreement on how the works would be housed and exhibited hammered out by next year. If the deal is finalised in 2007, exhibitions could begin as soon as 2008.

Leighton says that the massive VA Tech building in Leith, examined by the Scottish Executive as a potential home for the collection as well as other institutions, is "an option", but also stresses that other possible locations are also being looked at. Serota adds: "It's a very fine collection, one of the finest in Europe, which has continued to grow since D'Offay first began discussions with Edinburgh.

"There's more than enough work to fill spaces in Edinburgh, London, and several other museums; we think that by working together we can offer the public more than if we are separate.

"It's not a done deal in terms of having secured the necessary finance," he says.

"Part of it will be lottery money, some part other public money, foundations and trusts. We are certainly talking [in the region of] 10 million."

The art critic and former director of Glasgow Museums, Julian Spalding, says joint deals are the way of the future - noting that Canova's Three Graces was bought jointly by the Scottish National Galleries and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

However, he adds: "There is nothing in the public domain as to exactly what is on offer. There's been lots of talk about Warhols and everything, and millions and millions of pounds, but it's very difficult to get any accurate assessment of it.

"[D'Offay] was a dealer; his job was to sell, and dealers promote an artist. What it is he actually bought, I don't know."

Francis McKee, the gallery director and the curator of the Glasgow International contemporary art festival, speculates that the question of money initially put the collection out of reach for Scotland: "It sounds like good news to me, in a weird way.

"It depends on the nitty-gritty. If it is still being seen in Scotland on a regular basis and is available for exhibition and use in Scottish galleries, then it would be of great use.

"It's often unfortunate that the Tate seems to be English. If there was access to other Tate material [for Scotland] that would be quite exciting."

Mike Russell, an SNP Parliamentary candidate and cultural commentator, says: "Because of the collection's size, it's probably quite sensible to go with the partnership. The big unanswered question is 'Will the Scottish Executive back a place for the collection?' Because there's no point in acquiring it if it's going to spend most of its time in storage. The big question now is one for government, not for D'Offay or the galleries."

D'Offay's legacy

WHEN Anthony d'Offay announced the sudden closure of his London art gallery in 2001, the art world reeled. D'Offay was one of the world's most successful and powerful art dealers, and his galleries were big enough to stage major exhibitions of contemporary artists.

D'Offay, whose annual earnings were reported to be 30 million, wrote to 50 of "his" artists, saying that he was leaving the business and closing his four London premises. "There is never a good time to announce one's retirement, but I would rather step down when the gallery is at its height," he said.

Born in England in 1940, his father a surgeon and his mother an antique dealer, D'Offay studied art at Edinburgh University. He went on to open his first London gallery in 1965, trading in manuscripts and drawings. He began dealing in early-20th-century British art, and moved in to contemporary art in the late 1960s. Through the 1970s, he avidly collected artists such as Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns.

He became the main agent for German artist Joseph Beuys, along with Gerhard Richter and Gilbert & George. Later he focused on the Young British Artists, including Rachel Whiteread, whose Monument in Trafalgar Square he helped to fund. He also took the puppet-maker-turned-sculptor Ron Mueck to the Venice Biennale.

As a student, D'Offay described walking round the galleries on The Mound as "an experience that defines your life". Though based in London, he maintained ties in Scotland, keeping a house here and forging a close friendship with Richard Calvocoressi, the director of the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Back to the top of the page