Record crowds for China art show of Saatchi gallery

The record for the number of visitors to a contemporary art exhibition, set in 1997 by the groundbreaking Sensation BritArt show at the Royal Academy, has been broken by the inaugural show at Charles Saatchi's new London gallery in Chelsea.

The Revolution Continues, which showcased new art from China, was visited by an average of 5,200 people a day and, it has been announced this weekend, will now be followed by Unveiled, another free show, this time featuring new work from the Middle East.

By the time the exhibition of Chinese work closes, it will have attracted around 525,000 people, soundly beating Sensation which was seen by 300,000 and duly anointed the most popular contemporary art show in the world at the time. Curiosity about Chinese contemporary work reached fever pitch this year. Many of the most financially successful artists in the world are working in or come from China, including Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun and Zeng Fanzhi. Of the 20 top-selling 20 international artists, 11 are Chinese.

Building on the impact of the Chinese show, Saatchi, who was born in Iraq, now hopes to surprise his audience with unexpected work from an artistic community that the British public rarely has the chance to see. The former advertising guru, who is now one of the world's richest art collectors, concedes that the unknown work of Middle Eastern artists may not compete as a popular attraction with pieces from the booming Chinese art scene, but he argues that it is an increasingly important region.

'I can't see our next exhibition of new Middle Eastern art being as much of a draw, but you never know,' he said. 'The work itself is breathtaking - new Arabian artists are about to take centre stage in the art world.'

The geographical area has been overlooked due to the fraught political situation, but the cities of Tehran, Cairo, Beirut and Dubai have all blossomed artistically, a gallery spokeswoman said.

The Chinese show has been visited by 200 schools since it opened on 9 October in the 15-room gallery. Spread over three floors and covering 4,500 square metres, Saatchi opened the site in partnership with auctioneers and art dealers Phillips de Pury. Phillips subsidises the entrance price and Saatchi shows and sells through Phillips.

Saatchi initially set a target of attracting a million visitors a year, compared with the total of 600,000 who came during the three years that his gallery was in London's County Hall building, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Tate Modern, Saatchi's main rival in scale and content, attracts around four million a year.

The stars of the new Middle Eastern show include two brothers, Rokni and Ramin Haerizadeh, from Tehran. They are part of a generation of Iranian artists who are producing work which is distinctive of the region but not limited by it. Rokni, one of the most widely recognised talents working in Iran, makes elongated figures that 'look like a bit like cushions or oriental ballerinas en route to a ball', the gallery promises.

Another highlight will be the work of Diana al-Hadid, a Syrian-American artist who works in New York. Her sculptures take 'towers' as their central theme. The work of Ahmed Alsoudani - who was born, like Saatchi, in Baghdad - will also be on show. Alsoudani left Iraq after the first Gulf War for America, where he was granted political asylum. His violent canvases appear to be about Iraq, but are said to have a wider resonance.

(The Observer)

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