James Capper, 'Nipper (Long Reach)', 2012. Painted steel, hydraulics, plaster. 130 x 32 x 80cm/ Base: 130 x 40 x 100cm. © James Capper. Image courtey of the Saatchi Gallery, London.
Charles Saatchi’s new exhibition at his Chelsea gallery
follows the advertising mogul’s previous attempts to define the nation’s art scene, in shows such as ‘Newspeak: British Art Now’ (2010 and 2011) and, of course, ‘Sensation’, which was held at the Royal Academy in 1997.
But any visitor should take the ambition of the current show with a pinch of salt. The seventeen participants in ‘New Order: British Art Today’, although interesting in their own right, taken together do not represent the best contemporary British art, nor many of the developments taking place in art schools, studios and galleries across the country.
There are strong sculptures on view, which range from Sara Barker’s elegant rectilinear arrangements of strips of aluminium to James Balmforth’s weirdly interfered-with everyday objects and James Capper’s industrial metal forms that resemble animal body parts.
Dominic from Luton, 'Shoes Off If You Love Luton!', 2012. C-type print. 237.8 x 168cm. © Dominic from Luton. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.
But the paintings tend to be of the self-consciously ‘bad’ variety, such as odd renderings of historical, mythical and pop-cultural characters by Nathan Cash Davidson, or Amanda Doran’s portraits painted excessively poorly. Such works about taste will not be to everyone’s.
Elsewhere Rafal Zawistowski emerges as a kind of Leon Kossoff on ketamine, forming featureless figures from splodges of thick oil and encaustic, while the amusingly named Dominic From Luton is represented by photographs that include portraits of himself as a wheelchair-bound Margaret Thatcher at home on a council estate.
Being collected by Saatchi might not be the secure route to art-world recognition that it once was for an artist. But although his influence has waned, the art he acquires is still always worth a look for Londoners, for the way it combines visual interest with an accessible conceptual punch.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine