Saatchi Shows Veiled Women Made of Foil, Iran Sex-Worker Dolls
The new exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery makes one thing clear: Contemporary art is now a truly global phenomenon. Once, Charles Saatchi used to go truffle hunting in the artist studios of London; now, he can find what he likes just about anywhere in the world. “Unve
The new exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery makes one thing clear: Contemporary art is now a truly global phenomenon. Once, Charles Saatchi used to go truffle hunting in the artist studios of London; now, he can find what he likes just about anywhere in the world.
“Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East” (through May 6) is full of what you might call Saatchi-type art: brash, figurative, sometimes shocking. The mix is familiar. This is the kind of work he discovered in the London of the early 1990s and introduced to the public in the celebrated “Sensation” show of 1997. It was one of the triggers of the recent contemporary-art boom.
More than a decade later, Saatchi’s choice of global art still echoes “Sensation,” though, as was the case with his preceding display of new art from China, there are references to indigenous traditions as well as to the international avant- garde.
Obviously, “Unveiled” is a reflection of Saatchi’s personal taste -- and there’s nothing wrong with that. Another collector-curator could trawl the galleries and studios of Planet Earth and come up, for example, with a lot of video art (a medium in which Saatchi seems to have little interest). Saatchi finds plenty of figurative painting, though none of it is, frankly, very exciting.
For the veteran Saatchi-show attender, there are moments of deja vu at “Unveiled.” Shirin Fakhim’s series of life-sized sculptures made of fabric and found materials -- all entitled “Tehran Prostitutes” (2008) -- recall Sarah Lucas’s tawdry and erotic female figures, a familiar variety of Brit art.
Like these “Tehran Prostitutes” sculptures, several of the most striking pieces in “Unveiled” address the position of women in Middle Eastern society (and a number of female artists are included). Shadi Ghadirian’s photographs in the “Like EveryDay Series” do so with wit. Each shows a head and shoulders enveloped in a voluminous chador. But the face is replaced by an item of domestic equipment -- a grater, a cleaver, a broom or an iron.
There is a touch of Duchamp’s ready-mades about these, and of Cindy Sherman’s photographic examinations of female roles. But it’s also a telling comment about life in Iran, where Ghadirian is based.
As is often true of Saatchi’s exhibitions, it’s the big sculptures and installations that tend to grab your attention -- Damien Hirst’s pickled shark being the archetypal example. In “Unveiled,” the show stopper is Kader Attia’s “Ghost” (2007), a room-filling array of kneeling figures. They are shaped like Muslim women at prayer, and made of aluminum kitchen foil. The effect is eerie, because each figure is an empty shell, and beautiful in the glittering manner of some Middle Eastern decorative effects.
Global-style contemporary art is probably here to stay. Admittedly, its triumph seems fragile at the moment. The contemporary-art market, like so many other markets, has turned sharply down. It may be that as the bubble bursts, we’ll be hearing somewhat less, for a while, about brand-new art -- wherever it may come from.
[Editor] Zhang Shuo