There’s been a lot of criticism surrounding Charles Saatchi’s latest show. Having tackled Latin American, African and Chinese artists amongst his roster of big hitters, it seems the king maker has finally fallen on the trickiest race of them all – women. And that’s not even taking into account all the kerfuffle in his personal life.
I’m reliably informed that after ‘Pangea’ (Part I or II – they seem to blur) and the backlash the gallery faced with an all male line-up, the fearsome Saatchi declared the next show would be an all female cast. I can almost hear him roaring in response to the press, “put that in your pipe and smoke it!”
While it feels behind the times and lacking any real artistic thread, there are some really special moments that make this exhibition worthwhile. The star is Alice Anderson. After her fabulous show at the Wellcome Collection in which the French-British artist mummified some 100 objects in copper wire, I was delighted to find examples of her work at the Saatchi Gallery. Like falling down the rabbit hole, Anderson’s gigantic spool of coiled copper and ball of thread loom over the viewer in a way that is both technically and conceptually fascinating.
As has become the norm at the Saatchi Gallery there is also a lot of over-intellectualised work that loses its roots. At the end of the day, if you cannot identify why a piece of art is emotionally or intellectually interesting just by looking at it, what was the point? Brushing past a few victims of this dangerous sinkhole, look out for Virgile Ittah’s heart-stopping sculpture of two frail figures leering over the side of two metal beds. Skeletal and faintly terrifying, it’s as if Henry Moore’s blitz drawings have come to life and are trying to escape. I was also mesmerised by Jelena Bulajic’s entracing drawings of minutely accurate human faces.
Other enjoyable moments include Julia Dault’s understated but engaging sculptures of assembled materials, bent and curved to consider time, space and the body, and Sigrid Holmwood’s 19th century recreations of traditional Swedish life in neon. In fact the British-Swedish artist has taken to making art dressed in traditional Swedish clothes and recreating contemporary scenes, but with the difference of a neon colour palette. Having seen Holmwood in all her classical Swedish garb at a demonstration at the Ruskin several years ago, I can confirm the woman is certainly committed.
But the real question is, is it really all champagne and glittering west London shows for female artists these days? I’m unconvinced, but there are flashes of ingenuity that will inspire.