41/52 – The Saatchi Gallery
The Saatchi Gallery has been on my to-see list ever since I moved to London. I didn’t really know that much about it, but I used to watch a television programme in which artists created pieces of modern art which were eventually judged by Saatchi, and the best ones were featured in his gallery.
The winning piece was part of the trunk of a tree which had fallen onto a metal fence and never been removed. The artist saw the tree while walking in East London, had it and the fence moved to the gallery space – and called it modern art.
I’m not in any way trying to be critical of modern art – but it is certainly difficult to get your head around. It’s the kind of thing you look at and say ‘yeah, but I could do that’. While not everybody could paint the Mona Lisa, anybody could hang an armchair from the ceiling or disassemble a hoover right? Well, I don’t think it matters whether or not you could, I think it matters whether or not you did.
The Saatchi Gallery is absolutely full of these intriguing and challenging art pieces, which range from sculptures and paintings to statues and huge installations, all curated beautifully across three floors and fifteen gallery spaces. The huge range of different mediums is quite overwhelming at first, and I found myself staring at some of the pieces trying to work out what I was supposed to be seeing, or what it was trying to say to me. Eventually, I just wandered around enjoying the beautiful and very skilled artwork, and enjoying the different thoughts and feelings that the art provoked. It made me think about the way that we view, and almost revere, art – especially art that we don’t understand.
I really enjoyed the bright and bold pieces, and my favourites were those which engaged with me as a viewer in a direct way. One display of ancient (and priceless) pieces of pottery defaced with brash acrylic paint was particularly shocking, and I think made a salient point about what we, as a society, have come to value. The best thing about all this of course is that while I saw it as an attack on consumerism and mass manufacturing, another visitor may have simply enjoyed the beautiful effect of the painted pots, and moved on to the next piece.
Photography is allowed in all parts of the gallery – which I love – and it means that you can sort of see the space as your own canvas. I spent most of my time focusing on the art in terms of the composition of my photos, and it was a great opportunity for some people watching too!
Of course, the ‘Sex and the Body’ gallery space was particularly interesting to me (most of the essays I write at the moment are about transgressive sexuality, or repressed expressions of desire – specifically female desire and specifically within heterosexual relationships), and I think that if anything this was the only space which I found was a little lacking in depth. Images of contorted or exposed women don’t exactly bring anything new to this field – and I guess I would have liked something which made the viewer think more deeply about the processes of sex and sexual bodies within our culture. (But I think that’s because my degree has made me a little obsessed with how these kinds of things are presented!)
The gallery, located in the very, very nice area of Sloane Square is the perfect place to just lose yourself and wander through the art thinking deeply about what it means to be human, our need for self expression, what you’re going to have for dinner, or what day it is the bin men come nowadays. It’s kind of a create-your-own-adventure and I also think it would be great fun to explore with a friend. The café is very lovely (they have napkins and tablecloths) so it would also make a great place for a lunch date or a first date – and, fellas, there’s a Tiffany’s right across the street so if the date goes well, you can just go ahead and put a ring on it.
I would highly recommend this amazing gallery – now that I’ve finally visited I know it’s somewhere that I’ll be heading back to again and again (whenever I happen to be in Chelsea seeing all my pals), and I’d happily bring guests here to show them a slice of Saatchi’s compelling and slightly bizarre brainchild.
Of course it would be remiss of me to visit any museum or gallery without fully appraising the gift shop, and I can assure you that this one was one of the finest examples I have ever seen, with the usual pleasing mix of books, stationery and tasteful (read:expensive) nick nacks to entice any museum-goer-and-lover-of-stuff.
The nearest station, Sloane Square, is just a three minute walk away and you can plan your visit further, or find out about upcoming events by visiting the gallery’s website, here.