Some write to praise Charles Saatchi, some to bury him. Here Jackie Wullschlager reverses her opinion on the tastemaking collector and his new show of American art. Previously she felt Saatchi had hoovered up some of the best American artists but in this show she feels the “plum” works have been discarsed in favor of lesser work:
If anything unites these artists, it is that, like Saatchi, they are skilled at the niche marketing necessary to attract attention in a global marketplace. Each has an instantly recognisable trademark too simple to be developed, but capable of infinite repetition. Kristin Baker’s is fast cars, represented in geometric-futuristic fragments painted on PVC panels, giving an ultra-sleek, freeze-frame effect. Aaron Young’s in “Greeting Card” are motorbikes – he has them driven across his painted plywood surfaces, so that the impact of the tyres burns into them “spontaneous scribbles and gestures associated with Pollock’s subconscious negotiation of the canvas”. Elizabeth Neel’s are dogs – sketched fighting (“Good vs Evil”) or copulating (“The Humpndump”) in cartoon style, then overpainted in sarcastic rosy hues. Bart Exposito’s are the flat doodles of graphic design, suggesting corporate logos but derived from 1960s minimalism, and offering, according to the catalogue, “the Zen-like fizz of commodified nothingness”.
Everything is big – mockingly too big for the empty subjects – and desperately retro. Sources tend to be photographs or computer manipulations; of original transformation there is none. The catalogue claims that these “artists’ alter egos may well be the DJ. The brushstroke has been replaced by the ‘riff’. This is the age of ‘remix’. Raw material is downloaded. Photoshop is the tool. These knowing abstract practictioners have irony at their disposal and can switch to tie-dye aesthetics or psychedelia as fast as they can quote Malevich or Brice Marden.” This is an excuse for tired, derivative painting repackaged by advertising talk into 21st-century cliché.
‘Abstract America’ at Saatchi Gallery (Financial Times)