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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
Nude opening for Saatchi gallery
Nigella Lawson
Nigella Lawson arrived in style
A celebrity guest list has helped launch Charles Saatchi's art gallery on the banks of the Thames in London.

More than 1,000 guests gathered for the lavish opening party at London's Saatchi Gallery dedicated to contemporary art.

Among those attending were Saatchi's partner Nigella Lawson, model Sophie Anderton, actors Jeremy Irons and Stephen Fry and Sir Mick Jagger's daughter Jade.

Guests were treated to a nude happening by Spencer Tunick, with almost 200 volunteers dressing down for the cameras

Following the 35-year-old artist's directions, 160 naked volunteers, some giggling with embarrassment, posed in several positions - to the delight of tourists on the adjacent London Eye.

"It's good to have an artistic reason for watching this sort of thing," said Fry.

Previously unseen

The gallery is home to Saatchi's private collection of art which he dubbed the Young British Artist movement as well as other international pieces.

Saatchi himself did not attend because "Charles simply hates parties", a spokesman said.

"We have probably the most important and iconic collection of British contemporary art in the world, and we realised that there was a vast audience that wanted to see it," the gallery spokesman said.

An invitation was also extended to Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, who runs the nearby Tate Modern museum, which is seen as the Saatchi Gallery's biggest rival for attracting visitors.

Ron Mueck mask
Take a look inside the Saatchi Gallery.

Among the more well-known pieces on show are Emin's My Bed and Damien Hirst's pickled animals in formaldehyde.

There are also many works that have rarely or never been on public display.

Many of the artists' whose work has been included in the gallery were also expected to attend the party including Ron Mueck, Gavin Turk, Richard Wilson and Duane Hanson.

Other invited guests include Natalie and Nicole Appleton, art enthusiast David Bowie, Blur frontman Damon Albarn, architect Sir Norman Foster and pop mogul Pete Waterman.

"I love this stuff, maggots and all," Waterman said after looking at a Damien Hirst work of a cow's severed head in a glass cage full of breeding flies. "Art should make you look deeper, and this does," he said.

Part of the historic County Hall on London's South Bank has been transformed for the gallery, working with and around the listed building's fixtures and fittings.

It will include a space that will showcase new artists, rotating work every five to six weeks.

County Hall is also home to the London Aquarium and an exhibition dedicated to Salvador Dali.

The gallery opens to the public on Thursday.

The BBC's Rosie Millard
"Inside the gallery there are all the emblems of cool Britannia"


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