The Revolution Continues: New Chinese Art is the inaugural exhibition currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery’s new Duke of York Square location. The spacious Georgian-style building, formerly inhabited by the Ministry of Defense, is now home to large, impressive galleries with beautiful hardwood floors. And for once, luxury doesn’t come at a price: Not only does Saatchi offer free admission for his cutting-edge contemporary art exhibitions, but membership is also free, thanks to his new partnership with Phillips de Pury & Company.
Several critics have expressed disappointment in the range of exhibited works arguing that Saatchi’s selection isn’t edgy enough and fails to meet expectations of visitors wanting to see new art from China. Maybe they expected more from the gallery that launched a Mandarin-language Web site a few years back. Admittedly, there are pieces here that have circulated around the West as well as China, and as well as pumped through the salesrooms. There are also a few gimmicks, such as Love It! Bite It!, (2005-07) in which Liu Wei creates a Western city using nothing more than rawhide dog treats and Sun Uuan and Peng Yu’s Old Person’s Home (2007), a work comprised of wax versions of anonymous retired political figure heads buzzing around in motorized wheelchairs. Sensational, no doubt, but they’re also fun crowd pleasers and no less works of art than the paintings and sculptures that share their gallery space.
The exhibition boasts a lot of great talent, particularly, Li Songsong, whose interest in the power of images materializes in his powerfully presented oil paintings — images that border abstraction while simultaneously celebrating the materials that he uses. He works exclusively from historical photographs and places familiar scenes out of context altering their meaning, forcing politically-charged images into subjectivity. With his painting Cuban Sugar, the artist comments on a time when China was forced to engage in domestic sugar trade with Cuba to cut inflation. He divides the canvas into several different scenes, thus fracturing its political potency. The montage operates as a painting inside a painting, suggesting a layered and disjointed approach to historical interpretation. His style is expressionistic; it is clear that his interest lies in the manipulation of paint and the play on deceptive qualities of images often achieved with photography. Every angle offers a new vantage point, and with each vantage point is a different way of looking at his images.
Another featured artist worth checking out is Zeng Fanzhi. On display is a painting from his Hospital series, which resembles something that you would expect from Francis Bacon. In his grotesque parody of thought and action, figures are painted in an almost graffiti-like manner with exaggerated body parts emphasizing their gestures of pain and anguish. His subjects maintain a feeling of remoteness from the horror that surrounds them in the stale A&E Waiting Room.
If you’re in London, go because it’s a good opportunity for young collectors wanting to familiarize themselves with the big names from China. You’ll return because this mixed bag show is housed in one of the most beautiful exhibition spaces in the entire City.
– Stephanie Cotela Tanner