Yesterday, after clacking round the King’s Road food market, I popped into the Saatchi Gallery, now housed within a former military barracks off the King’s Road.
Duke of York Square Food Market, outside Partridge’s. Image via www.streetsensation.co.uk.
It’s a gorgeous building. The rooms are large and light but, without strong works, they can appear soulless and uninviting. These galleries are perfect for strong, large and powerful sculpture and I was eagerly anticipating The Shape of Things to Come. Well, if this is the shape of things to come, we should be concerned as, in parts, this exhibition is worryingly disappointing. Rather than prophesising the state of art in years to come, The Shape of Things to Come spends most of its time looking back, scared to move on.
The exhibition takes its name from a work of science fiction by H.G. Wells published in 1933 which speculates on events that will take place up until the year 2106. Wells maintained that the book was his edited version of notes written by an eminent diplomat who had been dreaming visions of a textbook published in 2106. He plays with and distorts these ‘found notes’.
This exhibition, showcasing the works of 20 sculptors, is disappointing. A mish-mash of works by some established artists – Rebecca Warren, Roger Hiorns and John Baldessari – is shown alongside lesser-known figures from the Saatchi Collection. I was accompanied by an art philistine, one of those people who aren’t that keen on contemporary art. We walked into the first gallery and the AP loudly exclaimed ‘That’s not art. I could have done that’. I knew, even without some of the dubious pieces on display, that this was going to be tough.
John Baldessari, Beethoven’s Trumpet (with Ear) Opus #133, 2007. Image via www.independent.co.uk.
Kris Martin’s Summit (the work the AP will, I’m sure, be beavering away to create this afternoon) shows eight large megalith-like boulders, discovered in Colorado, with a small paper cross resting on the peak of each as an ironic gesture to man hubristically trying to conquer nature. The crosses are so small that it’s easy to miss them which is exactly the point (excuse the pun). Yet, the crosses also call to mind religious meanings; often crosses seen on mountains are where man has himself has succumbed to the elements. Like many artists (such as the Richard Long at Haunch), Martin has brought the natural world into the confines of the gallery and, interestingly, he has controlled and overcome these boulders by the mere act of transporting them. Now, they represent something far greater.
Kris Martin, Summit, 2009. Image via www.artnet.com.
It is not only here that found objects have a strong role to play. Triggering debate about appropriation, Oscar Tuazon uses a bed and David Batchelor plays with coloured light boxes and more besides. Dirk Skreber’s installation of two crashed cars turns these familiar everyday objects into twisted distortions, caught in a state of unreal suspension and destruction. ‘That’s not art’ said the AP again. In fact, Skreber’s interest in bending the formal structure of a car without any determined functional sense shows that anything can be used as a medium for sculpture. Initially, it is easy to think his sculptures are a comment on accidents (‘That’s just a crashed car’ said you know who) and the dangerous pace of today’s society. On closer understanding these pieces are about the transfer of energy and manipulation of the everyday.
Dirk Skreber, Untitled (Crash 1), 2009. Own photograph.
Not all of the works here are this effective and, in fact, many left me feeling quite bored. Berlinde de Bruyckere’s sculptures are unnerving but not in a good way. From a distance they look like horses but in actuality they are anatomically impossible, missing a number of the ‘components’ that would make up the animal. Rather they are lumps, genetic engineering gone awry.
Berlinde de Bruyckere, K36 (The Black Horse), 2003. Own photograph.
Thomas Houseago’s sculptures are about paradox. Intended to be heavy and immoveable yet abstract, fully formed yet unfinished, they are energetic but lacking and their crudity overrules the artist’s sculptural language. Is technical skill present beneath the imposed abstract simplicity?
Thomas Houseago’s works. Own photograph.
I know all artists are inspired by what has gone before but for an exhibition that is supposedly about forward thinking too many of these works are a rehash of successful pieces we are familiar with from the past. I found it hard to be excited by Björn Dahlem’s The Milky Way, a sprawling web of wood and neon tubes that represent abstract concepts of space and matter, as all I could think of was Dan Flavin. Several of the artists’ works present similar problems. In the same way that Wells used recent history to look forward to the next stage of human evolution, this exhibition is regurgitating ideas from the past 40 years. Whereas Wells’ book was particularly prescient (some even felt he predicted the Second World War), this exhibition is not. Every review references these works to their pre-cursors. Nothing here is new or has the wow-factor.
Björn Dahlem, The Milky Way, 2007. Own photograph.
There are some good, exciting works but there are also some bad, self-indulgent ones. There certainly aren’t any brave works, there is nothing that breaks the boundaries and pushes sculpture to the next level.
I still don’t really know what to think of this but one message remains loud and clear. If you’ve got nothing to say then don’t say it. Under the Saatchi brand name, some of the exhibitors are attempting to re-popularise what people have been saying, doing and thinking for years. It may be good in parts but this is never going to have the impact of Wells’ seminal science fiction.
The Shape of Things to Come is at the Saatchi Gallery until 16th October 2011, www.saatchigallery.com.