Champagne Life at the Saatchi Gallery
The Saatchi Gallery marks its 20th Anniversary with Champagne Life, its first all-female exhibition, featuring 14 artists from nearly as many countries. As of yet, prominent art critics have been slightly underwhelmed, responding that the exhibition is mere lip-service to breaking the glass ceiling, a thrown-together junket, all the more suspicious due to Charles Saatchi’s much-publicised personal life. A touch belligerent, when considering the gallery has acknowledged in its press release that Life “does not offer an overarching vista of ‘female’ artistic practice; nor does it presume to state that there is such a thing”.
The artists’ overall output may be uneven in quality, but it never loses interest. True, the more showy contributions by Julia Wachtel and Suzanne McClelland can be achingly contemporary, with the former utilising altered photographs of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, and the latter furious abstract canvases featuring lists of measurements showcasing supposed similarities between bodybuilders and domestic terrorists that are, politely put, evasive.
Nonetheless powerful images abound in a multitude of styles, often more thoughtful and witty than posturing and trendy. Soheila Sokhanvari’s taxidermied donkey oozes out of (or into?) a fibreglass blob with an air of unruffled dignity, while Mequitta Ahuja’s work suffuses grounded self-portraits onto fabulist backdrops of saturated colour as she creates her own identity through fantasy. One room features a startling combination of Stephanie Qualyle’s life-size clay cows coolly returning our gaze, while Seung Ah Paik’s huge canvases cover the walls with features such as creases, wrinkles and fingernails, majestically elevating these hitherto incremental parts of our flesh.
Likely the most memorable artworks are Alice Anderson’s Bound and 181 Kilometres, which highlight the alienness of outdated mundane objects in the digital world by disorienting us with the sheer size of this ball of copper thread and bobbin. Dwarfed observers circle around while an ambient drone is heard, transfiguring everyone who enters the room into flies.
Maybe Champagne Life can be faulted for inconsistency of quality, and for seemingly lacking an overarching message. However the disconnected talent on display demonstrates the point that some observers have missed: the lack of synchronicity is its own subversive message about the foolhardiness of trying to pigeonhole female artists into a neat package. There’s much pleasure to be had in diversity.
Champagne Life is at the Saatchi Gallery from 13th January until 6th March 2016, for further information visit here.