Architect, art collector, friend to some of the most influential artists of the 1970s and 80s, and giver of legendary parties - Max Gordon made an indelible mark on both sides of the Atlantic before his death at the age of 59 in 1990. Yet his most important built works, like his transformation of a London paint warehouse into art powerhouse the Saatchi Gallery, are famed for their subtlety rather than grand statements. ’Never was there a trace of sensationalism or self-advertisement in Max’s designs,’ says Doris Lockhart Saatchi. ’Instead he skilfully used the simplest, and often least expensive, means to achieve calm and beautiful effects.’
Completed in 1985, the flowing volumes of the Saatchi Gallery at 98a Boundary Road quickly made him the go-to architect for spaces for contemporary art, be they private homes for big collectors or galleries like the Fisher Landau Centre for Art in New York - seven of which are documented in Architect for Art. An extremely personal new tome, penned by his brother and friends - including Tate director Nicholas Serota, the Saatchis and Emily Fisher Landau - it also features an essay by the man himself.
’Everything possible must be done to allow pictures to breathe and be enjoyed without distraction,’ he wrote - a theory that saw him set the standard for the relationship between art and architecture. In his own home on London’s Mount Street (featured in the book and the site of his famous parties), this meant paring things right back and banishing objects behind white doors, long before such minimalist tendencies had taken hold. This ensured there were no detractions from important pieces by the likes of Michael Craig-Martin, Sol LeWitt, Jennifer Bartlett and Stephen Buckley - works that Serota describes as ’one of the most adventurous collections of contemporary British and American art in London’.
Alongside his architectural work, Gordon also acted as a launch pad for British artists in America, propelling the careers of Craig-Martin and Buckley. Meanwhile, in the UK he is even credited with initiating the Turner Prize. As Serota puts it, his legacy lies not just in the spaces he created, ’but in the fruits of his ability to bring together artists, designers, collectors, and curators, and to cajole and inspire them into striving for more ambitious means.’ And so, with its lively mix of anecdotes and insights, Architect for Art gives a rare glimpse inside the art world towards the end of the twentieth century, as well as being a fitting tribute to one of its catalysts.