RAW: Saatchi Gallery In Adelaide – British Art Now – AGSA – Part 1 – 4K

In 1985, Charles Saatchi, the elder of the two Iraqi brothers who created the British advertising behemoth, Saatchi and Saatchi, opened his gallery for the modern British art he had been collecting. Over time, through disposal and further acquisition, that gallery grew from a place of interest for a few art enthusiasts to one today that enjoys the visits of 1.25m people annually.

It’s most celebrated exhibition, Sensation in 1997 showed the work of a young generation of British artists who had graduated from art schools in the decade before, including many who are now the darlings of the contemporary art world, including Damian Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Now Adelaide has the chance to see over 120 works from the complete collection from 40 plus artists in our very own Art Gallery of South Australia, nearly totally cleared of its permanent collection to house what will be a sensational and controversial exhibition for this town.

Included amongst the artists is another from the Sensation class of 97, Tracey Emin and her seminal work, My Bed. Here we have the very bed she awoke from after a week-long drinking binge complete with urine stains, tampons, condoms and empty vodka bottles. Jane Messenger, Curator European Art for the AGSA in her essay on the work states ‘Emin’s point of distinction was that she was not only merely using provocative visual puns to examine post-feminist and gender politics within contemporary society… Sex and violation formed the foundation of her artistic practice…’

And right there the debate can begin on the merits of the works, the commentary and the exhibition itself. Is airing one’s dirty laundry in public under the guise of high art a triumph or an indulgence that we pander to inevitably to our regret? Is this nothing more than the detritus of one’s life or something we should pay homage to in the ‘post-feminist political’ world?

More generally, are we seeing new ways to view the world around us or just rehashings of the past for those too under educated to know what has gone on before?

This writer does not attempt here to answer those questions or even suggest a viewpoint through the very asking of them. Rather, he wishes to advise that a visit to Saatchi Gallery In Adelaide – British Art Now will inevitably have you posing those questions to yourself. Some will appal for their apparent banality, others will excite for the vision bestowed. Be prepared also that the person next to you may well share the diametrically opposed position.

For the contemporary art lover, as well as those with a great intellectual curiosity, this a fascinating exhibition, well curated to cover a range of styles and ideas, enough to give a feel of the individual artists involved but not to a level of risking tedium.

The accompanying catalogue (that substantially matches the wall commentaries provided) is well and usefully written, itself in a bold post-box red cover comprised of some modern fabric that can be wiped down after spilling red wine or coffee on it.

With some irony, Saatchi Gallery In Adelaide – British Art Now was opened by the Premier, Mike Rann, in what seems will be one of his last ceremonial roles. Ironic in that as he encouraged us to embrace the new, he was being relegated to the past and ironic in that many will be of the belief that after all the bluster of 18 years of self promotion, at the very time he actually did achieve something real and of value by his own hand for this state, his party was saying they had had enough of his work. To paraphrase Charles Saatchi himself, ‘Premiers are pretty insignificant in the scheme of things, what matters and survives is the art.’

If visiting, prepare yourself for an extended stint, perhaps pausing for reflection at the coffee shop before continuing the exploration in the usual downstairs exhibition galleries. Such time committed will be a rewarding experience.

The role of visual art in the State has suffered greatly in the past decade as other states have embraced the possibilities, notably Melbourne’s Winter Masterpieces, the blockbusters at the Queensland Art Gallery and even Hobart with its new MONA gallery. Saatchi Gallery In Adelaide – British Art Now may not yet put Adelaide back on the map but it confirms the AGSA’s new director, Nick Mitzevich, has injected life back into the old girl and his relationship with the Premier is proving to be a rewarding one for art lovers in this state. Pity the other half of the relationship is being moved on and now he will have to start again.

But while that sorts itself out, visit and enjoy Saatchi Gallery In Adelaide – British Art Now.

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