You can see the headlines now: ‘Painting is BACK’, ‘Figuration is the future!’… At least, you imagine, that’s what the team behind this show of contemporary figurative painting and sculpture at Charles Saatchi’s Chelsea mega-space were hoping for. It ain’t gonna happen. But there is some fantastic work on display. Dana Schutz’s breezy and colourful paintings of surreal picnics, auto-cannibalistic heads and Technicolor human sacrifices are awesomely off-kilter. Jansson Stegner’s fantastical and pervy nymph-like policewomen, posing sensually in whimsical landscapes, carry a brilliant threat of violence. Technically, Michael Cline’s squalid, satirical pictures of American life played out on the streets are the best on display, brilliantly painted and full of sneering sarcasm.
Makiko Kudo’s alien tropical landscapes aren’t bad either; filled with sad manga-ish characters, they’re like post-impressionist Paul Gauguin doing animé. But then there’s the truly bad. An overdone and unoriginal fusion of street and high art (spraypaint and oils, man!) by Eddie Martinez; some heavy-handed and hackneyed reclaimed wood gravestones by Marianne Vitale. The list goes on…
The real star is Andra Ursuta’s two savage sculptures. You walk in seemingly seconds after a massive shoddy catapult has slammed a woman into the wall, leaving her broken figure on the floor and a huge crack in the plaster work. On the other side of the room, an almost identical figure lies naked, wasted away, her skin blackened and covered in wax. Ursuta’s work is shockingly violent and disturbingly harsh, and brilliant for it.
There’s no grand statement to be made about the importance of figurative art here. Instead, you leave with the impression that there’s good art and there’s bad art, and that Saatchi may not know the difference.