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160 nudes on the South Bank to mark launch of Saatchi Gallery

London SE1 website team

The Saatchi Gallery was launched on Tuesday night with a star-studded party and a live art event featuring 160 nude men and women on the South Bank riverside, but the founder himself was nowhere to be seen.

"Charles simply hates parties," his spokesman William Miller said.

It was left to Saatchi's partner, TV cook and author Nigella Lawson to host the party. Other guests included Pete Waterman, Sophie Anderton, Jeremy Irons, Stephen Fry, Tracey Emin and Jade Jagger.

Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, responsible for Bankside's Tate Modern, was also among the 1000+ invitees, despite the long-running feud he has with Mr Saatchi. The inclusion of Jonathan Aitken, Michael Heseltine, the Marquess of Bath and the chancellor's wife, PR expert Sarah Brown demonstrates the diversity of the guest list.

Living up to Saatchi's controverisal reputation, outside the gallery 120 men and women shed their clothes in the name of art.

As artist Spencer Tunick who has made a speciality out of picturing naked people in public places urged press photographers not to flash, the 160 nudists did just that to the surprise of tourists on the adjacent London Eye.

The reclusive Charles Saatchi, 59, who made his fortune in advertising with his brother Maurice, has over the past two decades built a collection of more than 2000 pieces.

Parts of his collection were previously shown at a site in St John's Wood, but the more accessible South Bank location was announced in 2001.

The new gallery, which hopes to attract up to 750,000 visitors a year, is housed in the ornate and cavernous rooms of County Hall, the seat of London's government from 1912 to 1987.

Saatchi's gallery has attracted a negative reaction from some architectural and art critics who fear that the confined spaces of the former GLC offices are not well-suited to the display of contemporary art.

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