’Champagne Life’: Saatchi Gallery toasts its 30th year with an all-female exhibition
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, London’s Saatchi Gallery is staging its first all-women exhibition. It’s a show that asks questions before you get though the door: whether this is an idea that has passed its sell by date; if it has, by how many decades; and even if it hasn’t, was it a good idea to call the show ’Champagne Life’? (The title is actually taken from a 2014 piece by one of the participating artists, the American Julia Wachtel, which intersperses an upside down and repeated image of Kim and Kayne with a right-ways-up, blue plastic, finger-wagging Minnie Mouse.)
Put those questions aside, valid as they are, and through the doors you will find the work of 14 emerging artists; one of whom, Wachtel, is actually now 59. The problem is that if you reject the femaleness of the artists as a useful thematic tool the you are left with a random bunch of objects in space.
Not that some of them aren’t striking, from Alice Anderson’s enormous cotton reel (Bound), and ball (181 Kilometers); to Stephanie Quayle’s Two Cows – two life-sized brown cows, made from clay and chicken wire; and Sohelia Sokhanvari’s Moje Sabz, a taxidermied horse straddling a giant, deflating balloon.
The show gets more interesting if you cross reference gender and geography. Anderson is British, as is Quayle – though from the Isle of Man, which is its own kind of specific – while Sokhanvari is Iranian. The Saudi Arabian artist Maha Mullah, meanwhile, is represented by Food for Thought – Al-Muallaqat, a piece composed of aluminium cooking pots that takes up an entire gallery wall.
One thing that does strike you is – in the context of much contemporary art – is how well-made many of these pieces are, how finished. There are no messy piles, nothing much in the way of found objects or ‘readymades’. These are mostly made things rather than found things. Which is interesting – but not because all the artists are women and it has nothing to do with champagne.