‘Diverse and dynamic’ works from the Saatchi Gallery Collection
This month two 100X HANDPICKED auctions celebrate 10 years of the Saatchi Gallery at its current location in Duke of York Square. We look back at seminal shows from the past decade, and works from those exhibitions offered in our sales
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Saatchi Gallery’s move into its grand premises on Duke of York Square in London’s Chelsea. Built in 1801 as the Royal Military Asylum (a school for the children of soldiers’ widows), the building now boasts 15 galleries across four floors.
Over the past decade these galleries have hosted a number of landmark exhibitions, starting with The Revolution Continues in 2008, which showcased the best new art from China. Visitor numbers have been consistently high: the 833,450 people who saw the recent Painters’ Painters, for example, made it the second-most popular exhibition in the world in 2017 (according to The Art Newspaper).
A major reason for such high footfall is the chance to see works by leading and emerging artists from across the globe — for free. To that end, the Saatchi Gallery is now teaming up with Christie’s for 100X HANDPICKED, a sale of 100 works it has shown at Duke of York Square — 50 to be sold online and 50 in a live auction on 28 June. Proceeds will go towards keeping exhibition entry, as well as the Saatchi’s education programme, free.
‘Over the past decade, our focus has been to provide visitors with a global overview of artists at work today,’ says Philippa Adams, Senior Director of the Saatchi Gallery. ‘In many ways, the title of our first exhibition here, The Revolution Continues, could also serve as a motto for the gallery. The works chosen for 100X HANDPICKED are a selection from across the Duke of York Square years that we think show our collection at its most diverse and dynamic.’
Here, we look back at 10 standout Saatchi shows from the past 10 years, highlighting a work from each that’s offered in 100X HANDPICKED.
The inaugural exhibition at Duke of York Square showcased new work from China — the early years of the 21st century generally being regarded as a fruitful period for Chinese art, as government censorship eased.
The artists included Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang and Bai Yiluo, with one of the most memorable images being the drawing, Portrait of Mao, by Qui Jie. In it, a feline’s face appears where one expects to see that of Mao Zedong, China’s first Communist ruler (Jie here making a play on words: ‘mao’ is Mandarin for ‘cat’).
‘This is a deliberately subversive work,’ says Tessa Lord, Head of Sale for Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s in London. ‘The punning collision of two remote subjects reflects the impact on an artist raised on the propaganda images of the First Cultural Revolution.’
Abstract America: New Painting and Sculpture harked back to the heady days in New York in the 1940s and 1950s when abstract artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning reigned supreme. On show now were 32 figures from the new millennium, following in their footsteps.
These included Texas-born, New York-based, Dana Frankfort, whose canvas Beyond offers a thicket of oil paint in orange, magenta and other colours. Semi-visible through it are the six capitalised letters of the word ‘beyond’, which serve as verbal symbols, abstract shapes and perhaps also a subliminal message.
The Saatchi Gallery is associated, probably above all, with the Young British Artists (YBAs) it nurtured and exhibited in the early 1990s: Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Jenny Saville among them. In 2010, when those artists weren’t so young any more, the Gallery exhibited a fresh selection of British talent in Newspeak: British Art Now.
Karla Black, Lynette Yiadom Boakye and Anthea Hamilton have all since gone on to be nominated for the Turner Prize. Hamilton currently has an installation on show in Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries, too. In Newspeak, she was represented by a mixed-media piece, The Waitress, in which the subjects of a Cubist still-life painting were adroitly adapted into sculpture.
The title of this exhibition alluded to Germany’s rich, centuries-old painting tradition, which extends today to such senior statesmen as Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer. Gesamtkunstwerk, however, meaning ‘a total work of art’, is a nod to the fact that a new generation of German artists is looking far beyond painting.
Markus Selg is a fine example, a multi-media artist whose work consists of sculpture, furniture, prints and more. With Anima — a totemic, female figure carved from a single block of wood — he tried to capture his inner psyche. Here was a Jungian self-portrait that proved contemporary art can have a spiritual side.
With this show, the Saatchi Gallery turned to contemporary photography, examining the state of the medium through 37 photographers from 14 countries. Some adopted a documentary approach, while the likes of New York-based Mariah Robertson were more experimental.
With Gladiola Window RGB # 1, she took a seemingly mundane shot of a gladiola flower in front of a window and — through digital collaging and the application of multi-colour filters — transformed it into what Lord calls ‘a vibrant, kaleidoscopic’ fantasia. ‘The final image is abstract,’ she explains, ‘yet it retains a tantalising fragment of the original photograph.’
Featuring 12 painters, two photographers and five sculptors, Body Language explored the human body in all its glory. With her sculpture, The Misanthrope, New Zealand-born Francis Upritchard produced what Lord calls ‘an archetypal figure hovering in a state of unresolved certainty’. (Since Body Language, Upritchard has gone on to make a name for herself with figures of this type.)
‘We have a bearded, old man seemingly turning his back on humanity,’ says Lord. ‘He is enveloped in a yellow cloak, immersed in his own thoughts and wringing his hands at the failures of mankind. He has a haunting presence, one that will stay with you long after you’ve left the room.’
The title of this show refers to the supercontinent known as ‘Pangaea’ that existed 200 million years ago, and contained the seven continents of today as a single landmass. The idea was to artistically reunite Africa and Latin America in an exhibition showcasing new works from each.
According to Lord, one piece — Rafael Gómezbarros’s installation of giant ants, Casa Tomada — ‘has become a Saatchi Gallery icon’. Adorning the building’s façade, as well as a number of gallery walls inside, ‘this meticulously crafted piece from tree branches, fibreglass and fabric is art at its most immersive.’
The ants were a metaphor for the displacement of people from Gómezbarros’s native Colombia due to violence and civil conflict over the past 50 years.
Champagne Life sought to redress the perceived gender disparity in contemporary art by featuring works by 14 female artists from across the world. Among the standout pieces was the tropically-coloured See-Saw by American painter, Mequitta Ahuja, who earlier this year was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Drawing inspiration from sources as broad as Gauguin’s visions of Tahiti, folk art and her African-American heritage, Ahuja produced ‘a beautifully worked canvas, featuring larger-than-life figures that are part self-portrait,’ says Lord. ‘It weaves together her own personal, cultural experiences into the history of art.’
Another show that focused on the latest practice in a single medium: this time, painting. Martin Maloney, Dexter Dalwood, Bjarne Melgaard and David Salle were among the more established artists who featured.
The 30-something Los Angeleno Raffi Kalenderian, meanwhile, was represented by Spirit Guides and Sunflowers, a vast painting that oscillated between the figurative and abstract realms. It depicted two zebras standing in a field of sunflowers, their stripes creating a dizzying optical dialogue with the striated forest of trees in the background.
With a tradition of exhibiting work by risk-taking artists, the Saatchi Gallery might be said to have featured countless iconoclasts over the years. Here, though, was an exhibition that made that point explicitly in its title.
Among the 13 ‘iconoclasts’ on show was Maurizio Anzeri, known for photographic portraits that he embellishes with embroidery. Often the embroidery functions as an elaborate mask and, in the case of Yvonne, the effect is almost Cubist, recalling the multifaceted portraits of Picasso.
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