April 2011

‘Newspeak: Part II’




Through April 17, 2011

Considering the gallery’s role in discovering the YBAs of the 1990s, Saatchi’s current survey of contemporary British art is surprisingly tame. Many of the 50 artists featured work in oil paint, and there is an extraordinary number of middlebrow tributes to the masters. Two mixed-media installations by Anthea Hamilton tip their hat to Picasso and Léger, while nearby hangs a row of paintings by Kate Groobey that summon the patterns and body forms of Matisse. Toby Ziegler’s nine-foot-high puppies tower over a room in cardboard and gesso, like flimsy spoofs on Koons. The theme of homage reaches a quiet, exquisite peak in Alan Brooks’s pencil-on-paper drawings from famous photographs of Ensor, Mondrian, and others. If this exhibit is an indication, British art has entered a period of small-bore introspection, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Painting is clearly alive and well. Jonathan Wateridge’s Sandinistas (2007) shows a menacing group of guerrilla fighters standing against a perfect, romanticized landscape that could be a museum diorama or a piece of Cold War kitsch. A desire to process the past, both political and cultural, animates much of the work. South African-born Carla Busuttil’s paintings resemble snapshots or news pictures of dictators – – Hitler, Mao, and a nameless African autocrat – – that have been hideously overpainted in a lurid, expressionistic impasto. The effect is chilling.

On the down side, many works show great technical training put to the service of undercooked ideas. Some revel in a jejune surrealism or, in the case of Ximena Garrido-Lecca’s meticulous recreation of a Peruvian mortuary, a kind of documentary literalism that doesn’t take us very far.

But there are some real standouts. Renee So’s ceramic sculptures offer charming, elusive takes on the classical bust. And Alexander Hoda and Juliana Cerqueira Leite work in industrial materials like latex and polystyrene to create sculptures that suggest mutation, mystery, and, in Hoda’s case, bestiality. His works provide a taste of the old Saatchi edginess.

– -Roger Atwood