LONDON—Negotiations are under way at government level for the National Galleries of Scotland to acquire a £100 million ($184.3 million) collection of contemporary art owned by London dealer Anthony d’Offay. Recently, the Scottish Executive confirmed that Scottish first minister Jack McConnell would be talking to d’Offay. “Although there is as yet no firm proposal on the table,” says a spokesman for the Executive, “the first minister has met Mr. d’Offay, and we are interested in further discussions.”
This development follows yearlong talks between the London dealer and Richard Calvocoressi, director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA), Edinburgh, and Bridget McConnell, director of culture and leisure, the Glasgow City Council. However, Sir Timothy Clifford, director of the National Galleries, warned that too much open discussion could jeopardize negotiations. “It’s very early days,” he told The Scotsman newspaper. “It’s rather like chasing butterflies. You don’t whip out your net and chase them. The funding, the collection and the building have all to be right.” The National Galleries have an acquisition budget of only £1.25 million ($2.3 million) a year, and the buildings for modern art are relatively small.
The d’Offay collection would add significantly to the attractions of the National Galleries, which are not over-endowed with international contemporary art. No list of potential acquisitions is presently available, but it is likely to feature works by Joseph Beuys, Gilbert and George, Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, Agnes Martin, Ed Ruscha, Bill Viola, Jeff Wall, Andy Warhol and Rachel Whiteread.
One of Hirst’s pickled-sheep sculptures, Away from the Flock, is thought to be included, as well as photographs by Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe.
D’Offay, who has a home in the Scottish highlands, has had an affinity with Scotland since his days as a student at the University of Edinburgh, where he launched his professional career as a book dealer. Since the closing of his London gallery in 2001 (see ANL, 9/18/01), that link has grown stronger. In September 2002 d’Offay was the unnamed owner of a private collection exhibited by SNGMA as “Warhol to Koons: International Contemporary Art from a Private Collection.”
The show included Ruscha’s Me, 1999; Koons’ basketball vitrine Encased—Two Rows; Viola’s video installation Surrender, 2001; and a Warhol portrait of Beuys—along with works by Gilbert and George, Howard Hodgkin, Kiefer, Martin, Gerhard Richter, Wall and Whiteread. The pieces were placed there on long-term loan for three years, ending this month.
In October 2002 d’Offay brokered a sale to SNGMA of 234 Beuys multiples from the Jorg Schellman collection for $980,000. In 2003 he donated Viola’s Surrender to SNGMA through the National Collections Art Fund; no money is thought to have changed hands. Last year he donated Hodgkin’s painting In Scotland to the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh.
He also loaned Warhol pictures from the 1970s and ’80s to the “Art, Death in America” exhibition and works from the 1960s by Ruscha to a Ruscha exhibition, both at SNGMA. This spring he loaned a series of late Warhol self-portraits, or “fright wig” paintings, to a “Warhol Self-Portraits” exhibition, again at SNGMA.
Although the d’Offay collection is said to contain 700 works worth £100 million, the price to Scotland could be much less. A spokesman for the National Galleries confirmed to ARTnewsletter that d’Offay was “prepared to sell for less than the market value” and that a lot of the collection “would be gifted.” The knockdown price, he says, might be “offset against other considerations.”