Saatchi Gallery – Abstract America Today
White Cube Mason’s Yard – Maid in Heaven / En Plein Air in Hell (My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Cheeto Problem)
Across London, and very possibly across the world pictures have been liberated from the wall. But they cannot stand on their own without it.So,some are leaning against it. Some are propped up on a variety of er…props. Some are just hanging freely in the gallery void.
It all seems very undignified. Probably its origins lie in the abandonment of the plinth by sculpture sometime in the 1960s for what is a wall but a plinth for a painting?
The Saatchi show was nothing surprising. Not bad, but not good. As if the artists involved had decided to pick a genre and dig in. Like Detective Fiction, or Free Jazz. There was no sense of discovery or adventure. The paintings reworked the tropes of Abstract Expressionists & Colour Field painters that appeal to contemporary sensibility (Philip Guston, Morris Louis especially) in the usual uniformly museum scaled variations.
The scale issue really bugs me because it is so critical in a picture. These pictures are designed for a casual interaction in one of these larger contemporary spaces. For a dozen or so people to be able to see it at once from a distance of a few metres. It precludes intimacy that you might get from a smaller picture – like a Vermeer say. On the other hand there are few opportunities to go bigger. You would need to go bigger than Pollock’s No1 or Guernica I reckon. And not only is that pretty big, but it also requires a Gargantuan Ego (think Schnabel) and the willingness to fail on a larger scale. Most artists are sensible and boring though, and stick to the prescribed Institutional Scale: about 3m for the largest dimension. Too large to fit into any save the biggest private home, but perfect for the refurbished industrial temples spaces of today’s museums and galleries.
At White Cube St James there is one of those curious, lavish shows they have from time to time. A junta of artists collaborated on this installation. The lower gallery – always feels like a bunker to me – is completely carpeted and the walls are floor to ceiling (about 5m) printed wallpaper of a confusion of found images, photographs and giant doodles. Notes to self, logos, video game images. That kind of thing. It is a spectacle. The last redoubt of the teenage dictator in the sprawling hive mind of those who made it.
Printing really has come on.
Pictures are suspended on chains in the middle of the room as if breaking free from the tyranny of the wall they have only encountered new shackles. They are not really pictures at all of course – they are sculptural representations of easel pictures covered on front back and stretcher the same overgrown imagery. It feels like a rich parent indulging a spoilt child in the hope of understanding it better but the child only reveals its inherent unlovablity.
Where is there to go from here? Back to the wall, possibly?