Cleared of Fraud, Saatchi’s Former PA Launches Art Venture

Francesca Grillo turns a new page after the sensational trial.

Elisabetta Grillo and Francesca Grillo arrive at Isleworth Crown Court on December 19, 2013. Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images
Elisabetta Grillo and Francesca Grillo arrive at Isleworth Crown Court on December 19, 2013. Photo by Bethany Clarke/Getty Images

All sorts of paths can lead to an art career—and a nation-wide media frenzy never hurts. Francesca Grillo hit the headlines last year, when she was accused, alongside her sister Elisabetta, of defrauding über-collector Charles Saatchi and his former wife Nigella Lawson of £685,000 ($1,140,500) with company credit cards. The sisters were found not guilty in December 2013.

One might have thought that Francesca had seen enough of the art world at the Saatchi-Lawson residence to want to start afresh somewhere else. Quite the opposite. She has teamed up with another former Saatchi employee, Sharrine Scholtz, to launch a gallery-without-walls, Laissez Faire Art.

It’s not as if one led to the other, Grillo claims. “I’ve always been interested in art,” she told the Guardian’s Etan Smallman. “It’s nothing to do with my previous employer. It’s just a coincidence.”

On the website, Laissez Faire Art is described as championing “a new way of viewing and interacting with art” although there’s little detail on what exactly this might entail. Five artists—including Tessa Farmer, an artist best-known for her insect dioramas and one collected by Saatchi—are also listed on the site, alongside a couple of evening events.

According to The Guardian, Grillo and Sholtz had toyed with the idea of an art enterprise long before they both became engulfed in the scandal surrounding the trial. Sholtz, who worked for Saatchi as an account assistant for five years, claims to have been unfairly dismissed from the job over false accusations of petty cash theft. She was a defense witness for the Grillo sisters.

Sholtz might also be the driving force behind the project. Alongside her work as an accountant for cultural ventures—after Saatchi, she moved on to the Serpentine Gallery and Rankin’s studio—she was the founding co-director of London’s Fold Gallery, with which she remained involved until 2012.

If the trial put Grillo’s name on the map, it didn’t necessarily generate the kind of publicity the pair is after. “People will have to meet me,” says the aspiring art entrepreneur. “And I can’t go out and meet every single human that reads the Daily Mail or any of the gossip columns. Some people will see I’m sincere and that I was innocent—I am innocent—and some people will maybe think I’m an opportunist social climber. But at least I provoke feelings! People either love me or hate me—I’m like Marmite.”


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