Champagne Life is the title of a work by Julia Wachtel in the Saatchi Gallery exhibition of the same name. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West feature repeated, inverted and brightly shaded, alongside pale blue Minnie Mouses (Mice?). It is a striking Warhol-style work, from a Pictures Generation artist that critiques celebrity culture and one of several good Wachtel works that fill the first gallery.
This exhibition has selected fourteen disparate female artists to hang together. Unfortunately, other than the Wachtel piece giving the name to the exhibition, I’m not sure why it is entitled Champagne Life. The gallery tells us it is ironic but could it be rather more to do with the exhibition being sponsored by Pommery? In any case to hold a ‘girls only’ exhibition in the 21st century is surely unnecessary. The easy accusation is that Saatchi is guilty of tokenism when it should rather be concentrating on curating quality exhibitions.
The gallery is marking its 30th birthday with this show and still seems to have an unfortunate habit of shallow exhibitions based on rather on loose criteria. Recent major exhibitions have included for example Panagea I & II, which brought together a too-broad selection of both African and South America artists and Post Pop: East meets West, an incoherent overview of worldwide art linked only by a vague pop art aesthetic.
The works in the show are again decidedly mixed in quality. Sigrid Holmwood’s neon colours clash with the historical re-enactments depicted. They are striking and eye-catching but ultimately the sentiments are rather hollow.
Gallery three successfully brings together three middle-eastern artists making political tinged works. Saudi artist Maha Malluh presents a giant wall of battered and stained cooking pots, presented like a decorative arrangement of giant buttons. These discarded items speak of refugees broken lives and echo their sadness.
A stuffed horse atop a saggy green balloon by Iranian artist Soheila Sokhanvari was a work we saw part-finished at the RCA student show a few years back. We didn’t realise it had ended up in Saatchi’s hands, but even though we personally dislike taxidermy, it is a visually striking work that represents the deflation of hopes for Iran’s green movement.
In the same room Mia Feuer’s papier-mache Jerusalem Donkey, symbolises the plight of the Palestinians, restricted by the Israeli requirement to ride only mules over the border crossings.
Amongst more nondescript work a series of technically superb, giant sized works by Jelena Bulajić truly stand out. Minutely detailed but painted with a real delicacy and lightness of touch, her close-up portraits of elderly sitters convey real feeling.
Mequitta Abuja’s big, bright and fantastical scenes provide a welcome respite too. She weaves myth and legend in to canvases that are both autobiographical and trans-cultural and reminiscent of Chris Ofili’s work.
Filling gallery 10 are a giant bobbin and ball mummified in wound copper thread. Created by Alice Anderson, who we are told entered a ‘meditative state’ during their creation, these demand attention but eventually leaves you to simply ask ‘why bother’?
The truly dreadful exhibition on the top floor where ‘Revelations’ by someone called simply Aidan is presented by the ‘Tsukanov Family Foundation’. Does this reveal Saatchi’s formerly excellent artistic instinct being subverted by more mundane financial considerations?
We left feeling the same way as we do at most Saatchi exhibitions: slightly unfulfilled. This exhibition is fine, but the wonderful space deserves just a little bit more.
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