Newspeak at the Saatchi Gallery

Charles Saatchi’s most high profile and largest exhibition to date at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea is a return to the world of the Young British Artists. It harks back to the Royal Academy’s notorious Sensation exhibition of 1997, although the emphasis now is less on provocative shock tactics and more on the juxtaposition of a variety of artistic ideas, whether it’s Ged Quinn’s combination of Romantic-styled landscape art with 21st century symbols and preoccupations or John Wynne’s astonishing sound art installation for 300 speakers, player piano and, of all things, vacuum cleaner.

While the Saatchi Gallery has had many conspicuous successes to date, such as its Middle Eastern and Russian exhibitions, this seems to be the closest to Saatchi’s heart since the gallery opened, as this new generation of artists seem to be his chosen protégés, who will no doubt become the Hirsts, Emins and(young) Turks of their time. The choice of the exhibition’s name, Newspeak, is no coincidence; it’s taken from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, literally meaning ‘the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year’. Whether the title is viewed as a self-referential joke – the implication being that modern art can only repeat itself to diminishing effect –  or purely ironically, with the constant growth or artistic forms, it’s a typically bravado piece of showmanship.

Some of the work on display, such as Goshka Macuga’s highly realistic 2007 Madame Blavatsky and collective littlewhitehead’s ‘It Happened In The Corner…’, seem like logical continuations of earlier Saatchi pieces such as Ron Mueck’s ‘Dead Dad’ in their car-crash combination of naturalistic, representative art showing human bodies with the esoteric subject matter. Macuga and littlewhitehead both touch on something sinister and out-of-the-ordinary, which is reflected in Quinn’s ‘The Fall’, a piece in which Icarus or Satan, depending on taste, descends to a ramshackle building swathed in camouflage. For light relief, Donald Urquhart’s ‘A Joan Crawford Alphabet’ offers witty pop-culture commentary on Joan Crawford’s life and career, and similar post modernism comes in Scott King’s ‘Pink Cher’, which simultaneously references Andy Warhol and Alberto Kordo’s iconic image of Che Guavera, to ridiculous yet striking effect.

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