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Home  > News  > Fire Destroys Art Worth Millions

Fire Destroys Art Worth Millions

May 28 2004

Very early on Monday morning (May 24) a fire broke out in a London warehouse. The warehouse was packed with paintings, sculptures and other artworks by some of the world's most famous artists. The fire was really fierce and burnt for several hours, sweeping through the entire building.

Shows a painting of household objects - a shaving mirror, a coat, a pair of shoes, a pair of trousers, a sandal, a watch and two chairs. They 'float' against a brown background. Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Photo: Michael Craig-Martin has put lots of everyday objects in his painting 'Mood Change One'. Which of them do you have in your house?

Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Hundreds of works were destroyed, worth millions of pounds in total.

The warehouse was full of art because it belonged to a company called Momart. Momart work for museums, galleries, auction houses and art collectors, storing their artworks for them and moving them around from place to place.

Photo: Chris Ofili uses lumps of elephant dung in his art - that must be smelly work!

Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Shows a photo of a large canvas with a black background, covered in white patterns and lumps of elephant dung. Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

More than 100 of the items lost in the fire belonged to an art collector called Charles Saatchi. He's been collecting art created by a group of young British artists for many years. These artists and their works are often called 'Britart' when they're talked about on TV and in the newspapers.

The Britart group includes people you might have heard about like Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gavin Turk, Chris Ofili and two brothers who work as a partnership, called Jake and Dinos Chapman. They all work in different ways, with different materials, letting their imaginations run riot.

Shows the inside of a tent, covered in pieces of embroidered fabric spelling out people's names.

Photo: 'Everyone That I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995', by Tracey Emin. Imagine what it would be like to sleep inside this tent - you'd have plenty of bedtime reading!

Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Two of Tracey Emin's most famous pieces were lost, one was a tent embroidered with the names of all of the people she'd shared a bed with since she was a baby, the other a beach hut called 'The Last Thing I Said Is Don't Leave Me Here.'

About 50 paintings by an important artist called Patrick Heron were also lost in the fire. Heron came before the Britart bunch - he was born in 1920 and painted some of his finest works in the 1950s. The last two pictures Heron painted before he died were among those burnt. Also destroyed was work by Paula Rego, whose paintings often tell mysterious stories and are full of strange characters.

Photo: This strange scene is 'The Ambassador of Jesus', a painting by Paula Rego. Who do you think all these people are, and what are they doing?

Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Shows a painting of a group of people in front of a large mirror - a man in a black outfit, touching the head of a seated woman who wears a white dress and a blue headress and is barefoot. Next to her is a woman on a pale pink dress slouched in an armchair, holding a doll. Behind her are two women in white and gold dresses. In the mirror another man can be seen, faraway. To the left of the picture, in the background, is a woman crouching over a bowl of water.

The fire is a tragedy for the art world as many important examples of modern art have gone forever. But, perhaps something interesting will come out of the experience.

An artist called Anne Sutton has suggested to the Independent newspaper that she would like to see an exhibition of the burnt remains from the warehouse. As Sutton said "An exhibition of burnt art would be fascinating, because it's not something we would ever do to our pieces."

Shows a photo of an old bath with no taps, standing in a room with old lino and bare floorboards. The bath has a layer of white paint in the bottom and white paint has spilled out through the plughole onto the floor.

Photo: 'Down Below' by Sarah Lucas. A bath filled with paint? Don't try this at home!

Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Do you think that might be a good idea? The art was made from all sorts of different materials - plastic, wood, canvas, metal and lots more. They will certainly look very different now.

Or do you think the artists should have a go at remaking the work perhaps? Should Tracey Emin be buying a new tent and getting her needle out again? If she did that, would it be a totally different piece of work or a copy of the original?

Photo: Richard Patterson's 'Motocrosser II' - ever seen someone on a motorbike in an outfit as colourful as this?

Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.

Shows a photo of a model of a motorcross rider on a motorbike, painted in splodges of bright colour.

Use the Get in Touch page to let us know what you think.

If you're interested in seeing some modern art that hasn't been burnt, these galleries are good places to start.

Saatchi Gallery
Tate Modern
The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Wales
Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (GOMA)
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Modern Art Oxford
And the 'Art From The Workshops' exhibition at the Ulster Museum in Northern Ireland until August 30 2004.

Story by Anra Kennedy