Charles Saatchi picks Best of British in BBC reality art show

By Ben Miller Published: 19 February 2009

A picture of a middle-aged man in a suit staring into the camera

Charles Saatchi will search for top young UK artists in Best of British

The announcement of a Charles Saatchi-led search to find some of Britain’s finest young artists in a BBC television series has been met with a predictable mix of wit and scepticism from certain quarters.

Jonathan Jones worries that Saatchi is “about to transform himself into the Andrew Lloyd Webber of art”, accusing this take on reality TV “nonsense” of being “of a piece with the desperate inclusiveness of Saatchi's online activities”, and everyone else is accusing the Best of British, slated for filming in May following an application stage which closes at the end of March, of bringing the bawdiness of the X Factor to art.

They might end up being right, but it’s hard to imagine the reclusive leader of 1990s avant-garde sharing anything in common with Simon Cowell beyond repeatedly being referred to as a svengali.

“We'd like to encourage as wide a range of people as possible to submit their entry, whatever their age or specific experiences,” enthuses a BBC spokesperson. “It’s less a competition, more an opportunity for artists to reach a wider audience with their work, no matter what their background or training."

Broadcast this autumn, the show will follow the lead of its vacuous pop antithesis in at least one respect by charting the fortunes of 100 artists selected from any discipline, six of whom will win a three-month term at an art school tutored by “some of the most innovative names in the art world today.”

Visions of Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, who Saatchi was credited with discovering more than a decade ago, immediately spring to mind. “Initially, the judging panel will go through the thousands of applications, then filming will begin when approximately 100 have been shortlisted” explains the spokesperson. “For the six who get to go to the art college it should be an incredible learning experience.”

“I am looking forward to the prospect of finding undiscovered British talent,” remarks Saatchi in the invite, urging “anyone with a fresh creative approach” to enter. The lucky winner will nab a space at an exhibition of Saatchi's scheduled for The Hermitage in St Petersburg.

“Charles Saatchi’s involvement in this project is a great coup,” observes Jacquie Hughes, BBC Independent Commissioning Executive. Hughes says Saatchi will play “a crucial role throughout the series”, adding that he will be seen on screen but not directly interviewed.

Executive Producer Peter Dale reckons the show will be “a journey of discovery as the series demystifies the subject and makes the art more accessible.” It's got to be better than Big Brother.

Visit before March 29 2009 to apply. Entrants must be 18 or older, UK residents and not currently represented by a gallery.

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