Friday, 30 December 2011

Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany

Verdict:  Go see it
Where: Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea
When: 18 November 201130 April 2012

What is it?  The Saatchi gallery always clears out the entire gallery for a new show every six months or so, add this to the fact that it’s free to enter, in a great location and an excellent minimalist interior makes it one of my favourite galleries.  This exhibit is showcasing the latest contemporary artworks from Germany.

What did I think?  This is the exhibit I went to console myself with, as I had gone to the National Gallery to queue for the Da Vinci exhibit only to be told that I was too late and the existing queue already had the 1,000 on the day tickets allocated.  So this exhibit had a lot to achieve; and it does … in parts.

Richard Wilson’s 20:50 is the closest the Saatchi gallery has come to a permanent exhibit and it still brings a smile to my face every time I see someone new approach it.  The room has been filled with sump oil but it’s so dark and reflective that at first you don’t know what you’re looking at and can only smell it, until it finally dawns on you and only then can you appreciate the contrast of the oil with the white minimalist style of the room.  The Saatchi will always be a worth a visit as long as this remains on display.  But, on to the main event.

All the Saatchi gallery exhibits have a certain hit and miss aspect to them, after all we are populating 13 galleries, and ‘hit and miss’ and ‘contemporary art’ go hand in hand, but there are some terrific works on display

The unifying theme of this German art exhibit seems to be about scratching under the pleasant exterior surface to discover the darker aspects; some pieces do it subtly, others more vividly.  The two main styles used to get this message across are the use of bold colours and strong lines (a la Matisse), and the use of layered imagery. 

Matisse pioneered the use of bold colours and sparse detail, and it’s hard to go wrong by following in his footsteps.  However, this also makes it harder to build upon - some pieces use too much colour and become too jumbled to convey any message at all.  Markus Selg breaks free of this trap by mixing a bold palette in one part of a painting and a darker palette for a contrasting background, this works to great effect in conveying the sense of foreboding in ‘Dream of the Saracen’.   The dark intensity in colour of Andro Wekua’s ‘Sunset’ makes it seem as if the water is boiling and is almost akin to a John Martin piece.

The layered approach has been used to brilliant effect by another German artist not featured here – Friedrich Kunath.  Earlier this year he had an exhibit at the Hoxton White Cube Gallery and his paintings had mesmerising depth, ‘always summer’ is one to behold if you get the chance.

None of the works in this exhibit can reach ‘Kunath heights’ but there are some brilliant sculptures and paintings with a similar motif.   The four that stood out for me were:

  • Isa Genzken’s ‘Bouquet’ for its imaginative mix of metal and flowers to create a multi-faceted interpretation of man vs. nature vs. man.
  • Jutta Koether’s ‘Mede’ that only becomes realised once you get close to it and spot the wailing faces  beneath the bright and smiley exterior.
  • Max Frisinger’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ for showing that an assortment of random objects can emit a feeling of togetherness once in a display case
  • Corinne Wasmuht’s ‘is always today’s use of vivid colours creates a futuristic feel, which until now I thought was an oxymoron.

A mention must also be reserved for Jeppe Hein’s cheeky ‘Mirror Wall’ which vibrates quickly once you move close to it creating a distorted and disturbing self-reflection that makes you smile and slightly wary at the same time.

Sure not all the pieces will grab you, but some will definitely resonate with you - in one case literally. 

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