When Barry Venning lectured the Waikato Decorative and Fine Arts Society on Charles Saatchi’s art collection, he provided a wealth of examples. There were some that particularly resonated with me. I didn’t necessarily like the works. These were the works that burnt powerful images in my mind. They were the works that provoked that seemingly unanswerable question – “What is art?”
I was grateful to Barry for revisiting his lecture and offering some detail about the works.
Kader Attia’s installation from the back looks like a group of veiled Muslim women at prayer. From the front, the bodies are empty shells. Barry describes them as “devoid of personhood or spirit”.
Marc Quinn took a latex cast of his face, filled it with nine litres of his blood which was drawn off him a pint at a time every few weeks and frozen. The latex was then removed to produce this sculpture of frozen blood. Barry tells me it is quite beautiful. I can’t get past the thought of what the sculpture is made from to see any beauty in this creation. The idea makes me feel ill. Quinn aims to repeat the exercise every five years for the rest of his life.
The Little Artists, John Cake and Darnet Neave, who parody well-known contemporary art, produced frozen raspberry jam sculptures on lolly sticks and called their art works “Lick Yourself”. Well, there’s a way to put you off raspberry jam forever. What a revolting association with “Self”. Clever though! Really clever.
Quinn also sculpted Alison Lapper Pregnant. Alison Lapper was born without arms and with shortened legs. Quinn’s marble sculpture of her is 3.55 metres high and was exhibited on a plinth at Trafalgar Square until late 2007. The sculpture uses traditional material and style in conjunction with a non-traditional subject. By imitating the idealised Greek sculptural form with non-traditional subject matter, Quinn debunks the idea of the perfection of the human body. How authentic in this era of the airbrush.
I understand this installation is a reflection of Tracey Emin’s disrupted and disturbed life. A close-up of the detritus around her bed would, no doubt, be quite revealing.
Barry Venning also spoke of “No Woman No Cry”, which Saatchi did not acquire. “The Tate beat him to it,” said Barry. The title of the painting comes from Bob Marley’s song about being poor in Jamaica. Ofili’s painting refers to Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, who was killed by a gang of white racists when he was on his way home from school in 1993. The painting is a protest about alleged Police negligence. It was said that the Police did not take the investigation seriously and failed to collect appropriate forensic information. Finally, in 2012, the gang members were imprisoned, with two being convicted of murder. The Police, who tried to frame Stephen’s friend Dwayne Brookes (who had also been attacked), had to pay $100,000 compensation to Dwayne when it was found that the Metropolitan Police of that time were institutionally racist.
So, thank you, Barry, for bringing such a diverse and interesting collection to our attention. Entrance to the Saatchi Gallery is free. What a gift to those who live in London and those who travel there. Apparently the exhibitions change regularly, too, so revisiting would be most rewarding. For those of us who are far from London, it is worth spending some time looking at the website. For those who think I have everything and are short of gift ideas – feel free to visit the Saatchi shop and merchandise website. I saw all kinds of objects and art works I could see myself acquiring. You might find something for me to gift to you, as well!
So that was a brief taste of an infinitesimal selection of Charles Saatchi’s art collection. I challenge those who visit this post to offer a definition of art.