Champagne Life at The Saatchi Gallery Chelsea

19 February 2016 § Leave a comment

This post is also published on CELLOPHANELAND* (link here)

Champagne Life is the title of a work by Julia Wachtel in this Saatchi Gallery exhibition of the same name. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West – better known as Kimye of course – feature repeated, inverted and brightly shaded, alongside pale blue Minnie Mouses (Mice?). Its a striking Warhol style work, from a Pictures Generation artist that critiques celebrity culture and one of several good Wachtel works that fill the first gallery.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

This exhibition has selected fourteen disparate female artists to hang together. Unfortunately, other than the Wachtel piece giving the name to the exhibition, I’m not sure why it is entitled Champagne Life. Surely they cannot be suggesting that maybe girls tend to like bubbly drinks? The gallery tells us it is ironic but could it be rather more to do with the exhibition being sponsored by Pommery? In any case to hold a ‘girls only’ exhibition in the 21st century is surely unnecessary. The easy accusation is that Saatchi is guilty of tokenism when it should rather be concentrating on curating quality exhibitions.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

The gallery is marking its 30th birthday with this show and still seems to have an unfortunate habit of shallow exhibitions based on rather on loose criteria. Recent major exhibitions have included for example Panagea I & II, which brought together a too-broad selection of both African and South America artists and Post Pop: East meets West, an incoherent overview of worldwide art linked only by a vague pop art aesthetic.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

The works in the show are again decidedly mixed in quality. Sigrid Holmwood’s neon colours clash with the historical re-enactments depicted. They are striking and eye-catching but ultimately the sentiments are rather hollow.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

Gallery three successfully brings together three middle-eastern artists making political tinged works. Saudi artist Maha Malluh presents a giant wall of battered and stained cooking pots, presented like a decorative arrangement of giant buttons. These discarded items speak of refugees broken lives and echo their sadness.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

A stuffed mule atop a saggy green balloon by Iranian artist Soheila Sokhanvari was a work I saw part-finished at the RCA student show a few years back. I didn’t realise it had ended up in Saatchi’s hands, but it is a striking work that represents the deflation of hopes for Iran’s green movement.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

In the same room Mia Feuer’s papier-mache Jerusalem Donkey, symbolises the plight of the Palestinians, restricted by the Israeli requirement to ride only mules over the border crossings.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

Amongst more nondescript work a series of technically superb, giant sized works by Jelena Bulajić truly stand out. Minutely detailed but painted with a real delicacy and lightness of touch, her close-up portraits of elderly sitters convey real feeling.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

Mequitta Abuja’s big, bright and fantastical scenes provide a welcome respite too. She weaves myth and legend in to canvases that are both autobiographical and trans-cultural and reminiscent of Chris Ofili’s work.

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

Filling gallery 10 are a giant bobbin and ball mummified in wound copper thread. Created by  Alice Anderson, who we are told (unsurprisingly) entered a ‘meditative state’ during their creation, these demand attention but eventually leaves you to simply ask ‘why bother’?

Champagne Life Saatchi Gallery

The truly dreadful exhibition on the top floor where ‘Revelations’ by someone called simply Aidan (presumably to avoid the embarrassment of anyone finding out their real name) is presented by the ‘Tsukanov Family Foundation’. Does this reveal Saatchi’s formerly excellent artistic instinct being subverted by more mundane financial considerations?

I left feeling the same way I do at most Saatchi exhibitions, slightly unfulfilled. This exhibition is fine, but the wonderful space deserves just a little bit more. With an exhibition of Rolling Stones’ artefacts and ‘Graffiti Artist’ prints as the next two scheduled shows, I am not holding my breath quite yet.

For more information visit

newspeak at saatchi – who dont ya love?

6 August 2010 § 1 Comment

Having compiled a ‘league table’  of the critical favourites it seems appropriate to also make note of those artists who did not manage to find favour. This was not easy. The majority of critics are sadly rather reticent when it comes to making negative comments about artists work. Is it some underlying delicate and caring sensibility which somehow holds them back from potentially hurting an artists feelings? I doubt it. Are they worried about potentially lightly bruising a certain Mr Saatchi’s ego by indirectly criticising his selected artists? I rather doubt that Charles cares a jot, but yes, I rather suspect they are.

Fortunately the wonderful Brian Sewell at the Standard has no such scruples about calling a spade a spade. Why are more critics not similarly forthcoming? Any perceptive and insightful critic owes it to their readers to assess good and bad, to jump off the fence, tell it like it is. In that very spirit of openness here are the lower reaches of Newspeaks critical pile starting at 10th and working down.

10= Steven Claydon. A sculptural head of resin, copper powder (aged with the artists urine) – and a feather. Dull.

10= Matthew Darbyshire. So-so assemblages of modern objects, questioning their cultural value.

10= Iain Hetherington. Baseball caps set against painterly backgrounds. Huh?

13 Lynette Boakye. I wont bother. ‘The work of an infant’ (Standard)

14= Sigrid Holmwood. Day-glo pastiches of Van Gogh ‘fit only for the bonfire’ (Standard) although to the Guardian they were ‘mesmerising’.

14=Karla Black. Dirty clingfilm plus dangling cellophane and paper. ‘A Saatchi Joke’ (FT).’ Disgusting litter’ (Standard). The absence of any aesthetic appeal, creativity or talent does not stop the Sunday Times calling the works ‘beautiful’.

phoebe unwin - girl


14= Phoebe Unwin. Strange figurative paintings with a ‘deft capturing of mood’ (Guardian). ‘A monkey-see monkey-do who can mimic bady anything done well by others’ (Standard). To be fair they do have a certain charm.

16= The Rest. Sixteen other artists were not either good enough to be noticed or bad enough to be insulted. As Wilde said ‘ there only thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about’. Exactly – so I wont talk about them.

So with the table complete do we know we have any better idea which of these artists will enjoy relative success and which will quickly fade from memory? The quick answer of course is no – critical acceptance rarely has any correlation with more general measures of success. I would argue that public profile is the most important factor, but it is a complex and varying equation where the drip, drip of publicity and review are all vital parts of the whole.

My own instinct? Regardless of future quality of work Scrase will succeed and despite critical response Holmwood’s paintings are very noticeable and will stay that way. For investment I would buy Daniels, Quinn, Holmwood and maybe Anderson assuming prices have not been ‘Saatchi-inflated’. But then again what do I know? I would love to hear readers opinions – do not hold back!

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