Paintings By The Numbers

In Charles Saatchi’s life, even when he’s collecting art, the situation eventually becomes focused on hype. Now a disgruntled British artist is accusing him of monopolizing the London art market by employing the same acquisitive habits he once used in building an advertising empire.

Charles Thomson, a member of the Stuckist art movement, recently reported Saatchi to the U.K. Office of Fair Trading. (The group, which advocates “new figurative painting with ideas,” was so named by conceptual artist Tracy Emin, who thinks they’re “stuck” in the past.) “We do not allow a monopoly on fridges, so why do we allow one on art? The last decade of art in the country has been dominated by the buying power, media manipulation and taste of one man, Charles Saatchi,” reads a manifesto posted on the Stuckists Web site.

Thomson is the ex-husband of Stella Vine, a former stripper and Saatchi’s latest discovery. Vine has become an overnight celebrity due to a controversial painting of hers that is now up in Saatchi’s London gallery. It shows Princess Diana with blood gushing out of her mouth amid a childish scrawl pleading, “Hi Paul can you come over I’m really frightened,” a reference to Diana’s former confidant and butler, Paul Burrell. Thomson contends the Stuckists deserve credit for developing Vine’s talent.

Saatchi’s tastes are seen as critical in boosting the fortunes of unknown artists: He often buys a large amount of their work, thus creating and controlling the market for it. When certain artists fall out of favor with him, he has been accused of dumping their work, causing a collapse in its value.

Last week the OFT said it won’t investigate the complaint, citing lack of evidence. Vine insists her ex has no case and is merely seeking publicity.