Champagne Life

Art Free
3 out of 5 stars
2 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
 (Alice Anderson, 'Bound' 2011 and '181 Kilometers' 2015. Image © Steve White, 2015. Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London)
1/5
Alice Anderson, 'Bound' 2011 and '181 Kilometers' 2015. Image © Steve White, 2015. Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
 (Julia Wachtel, 'Champagne Life', 2014. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London)
2/5
Julia Wachtel, 'Champagne Life', 2014. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
 (Stephanie Quayle, 'Two Cows', 2013. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London)
3/5
Stephanie Quayle, 'Two Cows', 2013. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
 (Mequitta Ahuja, 'Rhyme Sequence: Wiggle Waggle', 2012. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London)
4/5
Mequitta Ahuja, 'Rhyme Sequence: Wiggle Waggle', 2012. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
 (Soheila Sokhanvari, 'Moje Sabz', 2011)
5/5
Soheila Sokhanvari, 'Moje Sabz', 2011

Charles Saatchi is kicking off his gallery’s thirtieth birthday celebrations with a show entirely by women artists. Wait, I hear you cry. Fourteen artists and nary a penis among them? Can that be possible? What can it mean? Not that much. Forever the clever ad man, Saatchi slices his art collection at his whim (usually by geography or medium rather than gender) then retreats, leaving us to make thematic sense of what might easily be impulse buys.

Fortunately, rather than inviting spurious connections, the show forces powerful one-on-one encounters with work by the emerging artists he currently favours. Most impactful is Saudi artist Maha Malluh’s wall covered with burnt cooking pots (pictured). Titled ‘Food for Thought – Al-Muallaqat’, it does that cool repetition thing that Saatchi evidently loves, but retains some residual heat in its subject matter, the charred bottoms of Malluh’s pans alluding, poetically, to any burnt-out idea or belief you care to think of.

The hang certainly helps Sigrid Holmwood’s paintings, which get a room to themselves. The London-based Australian’s work but they’ve never looked better. With a strange combination of nostalgia – she takes her subject matter from the Skansen living museum of Swedish life – and neon-hued, retina-singeing colour, they create an almost sci-fi atmosphere.

Saatchi law dictates there will be taxidermy and Soheila Sokhanvari, born in Iran, now based in Cambridge, supplies a dead horse (insult to injury alert) astride a deflating balloon. You sense Saatchi admired its surrealness, or its resemblance to recent Brit-art, rather than its stated metaphorical relationship to Iran’s ‘Green Movement’ uprising of 2009.

The exhibition title, ‘Champagne Life’, is taken from a work by the show’s star, Julia Wachtel. And it comes with a massive dose of irony. A latter-day Warhol (minus Andy’s zonked-out ambivalence), Wachtel splices images of celebs, beauty pageants and riots with kooky retro cartoon characters that appear to bear witness on events. While the title is borrowed from Ne-Yo (sample lyric: ‘It’s all about them fast car nights and them big boat days’), the image features Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, repeated and inverted, as a flat and rather empty lurid green and yellow frieze punctuated by a pale blue Minnie Mouse toy. It overflows with a kind of withering disdain.

In fact, a beautifully underplayed bolshiness can be found in the best work on display. But to buy into the idea that, collectively, ‘Champagne Life’ has much to say about gender in 2016 is to fall for the idea that these artists, aged from their twenties to their fifties, working across continents and media as diverse as painting, taxidermy and clay, should have anything in common with each other. Because they are women. And this (male) critic ain’t going there. 

By: Martin Coomer

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2 / 5

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tastemaker

Skipping straight past the discussion on the merits and necessity of an all female exhibition, the show itself was a slight disappointment. Various reviews seems to point to the same conclusion of an incoherent jumble of work, whose only connection is that of the female artist. Perhaps that is the point, that there isn't a singular idea of the female artist, and each gallery stands on its own. The sparsely displayed pieces seem to reinforce this isolation, each is to be enjoyed without influence from the next. However, the curation potentially missed a trick and fell a bit flat leaving the viewer slightly disoriented. The quality of each gallery were consequently uneven to say the least.


All that aside, there are certainly amazing artworks to be enjoyed, and well worth a visit.

Tastemaker

There is no perceptible connection between the works or artists. Knowing they are all women is definitely not enough for any kind of unity.Exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery are always quite inconsistent, but usually it's possible to find more than a few works that make it worth your while; this one, not so much. With the exception of Maha Malluh’s work, nothing there really caught my attention. The exhibition is not doing ‘female artists’ any favours.