Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide: British Art Now

Tracey Emin’s My Bed has landed in …. Adelaide! ATL re-enters the Saatchi stratosphere

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To begin with, I’m a bit ambivalent about the hype: the Young British Artists and the new gen of YBAs, the theatrics, the scale, the bling, the sheer size of Saatchi. In this shouty age of excess and celebrity, I perversely crave something more humble.

It’s easy to forget, what with a diamond encrusted skull by Damien Hirst fetching tens of millions of dollars a few years back, that Charles Saatchi does what he does for the love of art. He may occasionally create monsters, but his patronage is invaluable. He still visits unknown artists’ studios. He buys and sells his collection - using profits to keep the process going. He is, in his own words, “an artaholic”. His eye and his clout discern the future rising stars of British art.

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It’s something of a coup for the Art Gallery of South Australia to hold the first ever Saatchi Gallery exhibition in this country. It’s also the first survey of contemporary British art to be shown in Australia this century. Director Nick Mitzevich is beside himself with excitement. So much so that when spruiking the accompanying book at the thousand-strong opening party he drew attention to the striking and unusual red rubber cover as “wipe down-able”.

I did not have the same visceral reaction to the art or the book, but both are exciting and of-the-moment. The exhibition is huge (taking up the entire European section of the gallery, over three floors, rooms and rooms; in fact, it’s the largest exhibition ever mounted by the AGSA), it’s OTT, it’s got weird stuff in it, like a whole room devoted to enormous pieces of cling film (Karla Black’s Unpreventable Within 2009). It opens with a bang – we walk in between Steve Bishop’s horse with a mink coat over its head (It’s Hard to Make a Stand 2009) and his taxidermy-goat/outsized perfume bottle, Christian Dior – J’adore (Mountain Goat) 2008 - and ends with a buzz at The Hive, an interactive workshop space inspired by Tessa Farmer’s fascinating, animistic, painstakingly crafted Swarm. In between there’s heaps of provocative, variant, eye-catching, conversation-sparking art. Tracey Emin’s My Bed 1998 is the old master (I loved seeing it in the flesh, so to speak, those stained sheets, used condoms, the overflowing ashtray and empty vodka bottles have been deprived of shock value by the passage of time and now have a comforting familiarity) and there’s a whole range of bright new talent on display.

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There’s the cool factor (Scott King’s Pink Cher 2008), the out-there titles (Luke Gottelier’s Icecream Headed Birdman Fucking an Antelope, 2010), the subtle and contemplative (Maaike Schoorel’s bleached canvases inspired by faded family photographs), the satiric (Olivia Pender’s comic strip drawings The Masterpiece Part 4 – A Weekend in the Country), the in-your-face (Barry Reigate’s sodomised bunny light sculptures), the curiously haunting (Jonathan Wateridge’s Jungle Scene with Plane Wreck where, in the artist’s words “B-movie aesthetic meets the Sublime”), the unusual (Sigrid Holmwood’s fluorescent artisan pigments), the existential (Dick Evan’s compelling Black Grape), the deliberately ugly, the strangely beautiful and the beautifully strange …. Go.


Susie Burge, all rights reserved

Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide: British Art Now (exhibition on till 23 October; book distributed through Thames & Hudson, RRP $50)