The place is surrounded by an unexplainable serenity. The wide open space in front of the house does not make you feel small; it is rather welcoming in its grandness. The majestic entrance with the smiles greeting you – it almost feels like there is a catch in all of it. Saatchi Gallery would not perhaps be the first thing that comes to mind when described like that.
The former Duke of York’s Headquarters has been beautifully transformed into an art gallery by Charles Saatchi who bought the place to display his art collections. Sharing something like that with the rest of the world is a big gesture from a big man like Saatchi himself. Advocating art that is fresh and intriguing, having the guts to put the money on young aspiring artists – that is what describes the young British art exhibition, currently showcasing for the second time.
The greatness of the old Duke of York Headquarters has been blended with beautiful contemporary architecture. A modern art collection does not necessarily go ‘by default’ with the aura of the Saatchi Gallery building. In the posh Sloane Square area and the gallery building it almost seems inappropriate to display extravagant and loud art like that, but once you cross the threshold, everything falls into place.
One of the biggest problems about art galleries is that they feel static and sterile as an environment for art to be presented in. No doubt it is all intentional, but when seeing how Saatchi Gallery converses with the art it is showcasing, the disconnectedness of the art and place is the last thing that comes to mind.
The walk on the warm wooden floors, eclectic colourful artwork on white walls – it is an experience in itself. The natural light glowing in through the big glass windows in hallways softens the impact of otherwise quite loud pieces of art in the ‘Newspeak: British Art Now’ exhibition.
The twelve galleries hold art styles from wall to wall; it is just about the right amount, if you are in the right state of mind. If you concentrate on every single work in a single visit, it is likely to be a bit too much. And this is because everything showcased is a very strong individual piece of art. It is difficult, if not impossible to pick out something that made the biggest impact. No doubt the emotions triggered are of the mixed kind, but any emotion is good emotion, when it comes to art, right?
One of the first jaw-dropping, if not perhaps the most incredible exhibit overall, is Tessa Farmer’s ‘Swarm’ (2004). Made of desiccated insect remains, dried plant roots and other organic materials, the tiny sculptures come across like creepy fairies or some other creatures from nightmares. It is unlikely you’ll see a smaller skeleton in your life. The crowds of people studying the vitrine with googly eyes, proves something – this stands out and will be remembered.
In Gallery 5, Steve Bishop’s works are likely to bring the most mixed emotions – rage, disbelief, confusion and amusement. ‘It’s Hard To Make A Stand’ (2009) makes a sharp statement in the form of a foam horse with a fur coat over its head. We could think of all the deep and meaningful things to say about this, but perhaps the lack of artiness is what makes the work ingenious. The story of how the work got its name is as glamorous – according to the artist it was hard to make the wooden stand the horse is standing on. Brilliant.
The writer’s personal irrevocable favourite must be Bishop’s second work ‘Christian Dior J’Adore (Mountain Goat)’ (2008). An adamant animal lover, this piece of art firstly triggered disgust and slight anger. The concept luckily thawed the thoughts of a poor animal who has been stuffed… in the name of art. It would be intriguing to try to put an existential story behind the artwork, but even in the lack of one, the mockery of the fashion industry and vanity works as magic. Combining taxidermy with concrete is an unconventional choice of art supplies, but has a strong impact. It is outrageous, funny, bizarre and unlikely to leave anyone indifferent.
Walking through the galleries is almost like a meditation, you will let the art take you on a journey, offering you emotions on the entire colour spectrum. Some of its quality and purpose is highly questionable; some of it will make you gasp in amazement. The British Art Now exhibition is a clear proof that art is not dead. For now.