Wednesday, 6 October 2010


SAATCHI GALLERY, London 6.10.10 


It’s my first visit to the Kings Road Saatchi Gallery.  I’m heartened by a floor-to-sky banner saying Admission Free, because the size and beauty of the building, plus its improbably glamorous setting and the carpet tracking the way between stately pillars suggest a stately home where outsiders know their place. I notice too that passers-by have more than their fair share of blonde beauty, young boys with cute caps and satchels, and old ladies with perfect cheek bones and hair pinned up with silver-tipped chopsticks.

The first surprise at the Reception Desk is a catalogue I can buy for £1.50. Art catalogues, like engagement rings, are often showy and expensive. Ideally you need to be certain of what you are doing before you get out the credit card, which is difficult when you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for.  What if I don’t like the exhibition? For £1.50 I can take a risk.  It turns out to be perfect, with a b/w picture of each exhibit, strong enough to trigger a memory afterwards. I’m reminded of what Leonarda da Vinci said of the eye:  ‘Who would believe that so small a space could contain the images of all the universe?’ At the back of the catalogue are tiny pictures of each artist together with the briefest of biographies, which you don’t need, but are deeply satisfying to the curious.

     The first gallery is capacious, containing just three installations, two of which are suspended from the ceiling. NOTHING IS A MUST is a huge, open bag made of chalked sugar paper, ribbon, lipstick and glitter hairspray: it gapes open, flaccid, cheerful and playful. The title has sharp elbows which remind me that there are very good reasons why we should play, explore and create (even a blog) for no reason at all.
  The catalogue photograph shows it in its new-made glory but now there are holes and tears which sag and jag. What’s probably the worst damage is hidden beneath rough paper patches. A woman sketching gives each scar loving attention. 
Nearby is another Karla Black work. Imagine plucking a cloud from the sky and breathing on it until it turns into a pale mellow sultry chalky tangerine colour. That’s how beautiful PLEASER is. It’s made of cellophane, paint, sellotape and thread. Cellophane is a transparent wrapping film first made from wood pulp (cellulose) by Jacques Brandenberger , a Swiss chemist, just over a hundred years ago. I grew up handling cellophane-wrapped Christmas presents which were always scrunchy and full of promise. Cellophane crackles although it has a texture as smooth as glass and is as limpid as water. Present day clingfilm is a bitter disappointment: it has all the ambiguity and stickiness of treacle but is neither sweet nor luminous. 
You can walk round these large gentle art works because they’re in a fit-for-purpose huge gallery. The walls are cream, not the dead margarine colour I grew up with, but with a well-bred nourishing warmth.  It strikes me that the real star is the space itself, inside and out.  You don’t get much of that in central London: rooms and gardens tend to be small, streets and shops, buses and tubes, pavements and roads are crowded. Here you are invited by large elegant windows to pause and admire pleasing terraces of Georgian houses and calm rows of primary school children in identical russet and cream uniform sitting cross-legged on the greenest of green lawns.   (Museum of Modern Art. Ireland)

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