Whenever I visit the Saatchi gallery in Chelsea, I always do so on the assumption that I am going to hate most of the art on show. This reactionary pattern begun some years back, when Saatchi was still on the south bank, and the works included Tracy Emin’s vile “unmade” tip of a filthy bed, and her even viler photographic self portrait surrounded by money shoved up and around her you-know-what. Then, when Saatchi moved to Chelsea, exhibitions included a show of Russian art, which turned out to be even more depressing in its lack of talent than one would have already guessed, and shows which decided that the car wrecks lifted straight out of a (probably tragic) accident scene would somehow make for an enticing art exhibit.
So, when I dropped into Saatchi’s gallery last weekend, I wasn’t expecting the latest offering, Body Language, to be much better than a convenient toilet stop in the midsts of some Chelsea shopping. But when you enter a gallery a see a sculpted portrait made out of Iberico ham, you pretty much know that you are going to be in for a treat. Oh yes, with his brilliantly innovative creation of Spain’s best leg of meat, Kasper Kovitz’ Carnalitos sculptures single handedly opened my eyes to the positives of Saatci’s ever revolving exhibitions of contemporary art works (eyes which had pretty much been sealed shut in opposition following the recent Nigella cafe strangle scandal…).
Other favourites from a varied show of contemporary artists include the paintings of Michael Cline, whose somewhat parodied figures reminded me of Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Memorial Chapel paintings which were recently on show at Somerset House. I also loved Nicole Eisenman’s energetic oil paintings such as the Beer Garden at Night (2007) which is full of whimsical figures and amusing social shenanigans which can keep an audience entranced for hours, and Makiko Kudo’s fantastical escapist visions which were in part like a Manga cartoon and at the same time like Monet’s pond bursting with lilies.
Less convincing were the paintings by Eddie Martinez which were so badly painted as to be derisable. His “Feast” is compared in the gallery brochure to Da Vinci’s historically celebrated Last Supper. I would compare it to the dirty dining table at the end of a meal when my toddler nephews have been to stay. I was equally dismayed by Denis Tarasov’s photographs of tombstones in graveyards in Russia and Ukraine, not because of the photography itself, but because of the hideously tacky gravestone pictures which they captured – huge granite tombs decorated with intricately carved photographic likenesses of the individuals buried beneath them, looking so vulgar that to even place such visions in a freshly painted white gallery in the centre of London’s chelsea felt like dumping a Lidl in the middle of Harrods. That’s not to say they weren’t interesting – one shouldn’t be surprised that this level of vulgarity would come out of a country which has backdated its laws in relation to homosexuality by at least a century of moralistic retardation.
But I digress. From its low points to its very high, Body Language is well worth a visit for its sheer diversity of art – there really is something for everyone, and it’s free too, so what’s to lose? For me, the show demonstrates that painting is very much back in fashion and that the age of nonsense gimmicky installations is largely dead, which can only be good news if the 21st century is ever going to make any kind of decisive mark on art history. Not only that but the Saatchi gallery is, as ever, a brilliant cultural location whose highlights also include a show of emerging British talent, a gallery of limited edition prints which are for sale, a spangly new gift shop which is around 6 times the size of what it used to be (Iberico ham sculptures sadly not for sale – but there’s always Iberica restaurant in Marylebone as a very good consolation prize – and there you even get to eat it).
Body Language is on at the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea, until the 23 March 2014