diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saatchi GalleryNouveau Art: Saatchi Gallery
Have you been yet? The new Saatchi Gallery in the King's Road, down Chelsea way. It's been open for a month, have you not popped in? It's free to get in, which is a bit of an improvement on the gallery's previous incarnation on the South Bank. And it's full of art! You're bound to go there some time, so why not go soon? well, maybe.

Charles Saatchi's latest art emporium is based in the former Duke of York's Building, a grand Georgian barracks with strong Palladian columns and an extensive grassy square outside. Appearances can be deceptive. Once through the door, the interior is anything but ancient. A pair of brightly lit galleries lead off to each side, each a shuttered white box in which to hang the adman's latest whim. To the rear a modern extension, not huge, but enough for an extra gallery and some extra staircases. There are three roughly identical floors, each a little anonymous, plus some additional space and a shop in the basement. Plenty of room, very flexible, and ripe for revisiting.

Ash Head No 1The first major exhibition here is of New Chinese Art. Nobody you'll have heard of, Charles specialises in the unknown, but this is familiar western-style art with a very definite Oriental flavour. Yes that is Chairman Mao sitting in the royal coach with the Queen Mother, you get the idea. Bold canvases dominate some rooms, surreal sculptures dominate others. It's the latter that you'll remember later. A landscape of architectural icons created from dog chews. The top half of an inscrutable head. A ponytailed mannequin licking the floor. A donkey climbing a metal skyscraper, and a giant turd (not connected). One major work, in the two-floor rear gallery, involves resin human bodies hanging hairless from the ceiling like plucked meat. Down in the basement are 13 old men (who look suspiciously like world leaders) slouched in motorised wheelchairs which move aimlessly back and forth. Not so much geriatric dodgems as an attempt at pointed political satire, and a big hit with visiting punters.

The gallery has an unusual atmosphere, especially if you're used to more formal presentation. There are no barriers in front of the paintings or sculptures, there's just the occasional notice asking you to respect the artworks and to keep children from touching them. No problem if you want to walk into the middle of the wheelchair display, for example, and become part of the performance. Photography is also permitted, big time. The more intriguing pieces each gather a small crowd wielding their cameras or mobiles, which feels either wonderfully inclusive or disturbingly intrusive, depending on your point of view. But it's an interesting space nonetheless, which stands or falls on the choice of works placed therein. Worth a look?
by tube: Sloane Square

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