By the time you’ve reached the top floor of Charles Saatchi’s megagallery you may have had your fill of scrutinising the latest goings on in art (especially since the main show, ‘Body Language’, is one of the most engrossing shows here in ages), so it’s worth remembering in advance to save some energy for his latest Brit art bellwether. What links this bunch? On first impression, not much, other than Saatchi’s patronage. There’s a smattering of undisputed stars-in-the-making, including 2011 Royal Academy Schools graduate Oliver Osborne, whose abstract canvases collaged with magazine images (including a scruffy monochrome with a still of Tom Hanks struggling to get some kip in the 2004 movie ‘The Terminal’ attached) are deadpan skits about how paintings are made, looked at and thought about. This is art about art played for laughs, or as close to laughs as contemporary art gets: Osborne uses Hanks’s arrivals lounge entrapment to guard against any lofty ideas about abstraction being some kind of spiritual portal.
But it’s not all in-jokes and market-smart formulae. There’s also room for an artist like Tom Gidley, who graduated a couple of decades ago and brings a chameleon-like approach to making that means every outing is a kind of self-reinvention. Here, he presents blurrily photorealist paintings alongside knobbly ceramics, such as ‘Pacifist’, a shell-like clay form resting on the top edge of a small portrait that Gidley has partially erased to give the impression of glaze from the ceramic dribbling down its surface.
Look around and you’ll find artists mining a similar territory, somewhere between two and three dimensions, where one thing starts to become another. There are paintings busting out of the frame – like George Little’s still life, which has a metal shelf attached – and sculptures that look like they’re trying to melt into the floor, like Virgile Ittah’s wax figures, which are slowly succumbing to gravity. This may not be the shoutiest bunch of Brit artists ever but their focus on flux feels fresh. Call it uncertain art for uncertain times.