Returning to the Figurative. Body Language at Saatchi Gallery

I visited Saatchi Gallery with the impression of seeing an exhibition about 19 emerging international artists that “explore the physical body and present a variety of reflections on the human form”, as claims the gallery in its catalogue. However, facing the big colorful canvases that fill out the bright and grandiose white rooms of Saatchi Gallery, I soon felt confused; the title of the show was rather deceptive. Indeed, all the narrative that was being developed in front of me had almost nothing to do with the human body itself or its gestures as signs of a non verbal communication system. In fact the body in these artworks seems to almost disappear in an attempt to investigate the figure and explore anew the potentialities of the form.

On the ground floor the vivid colors, the monumental forms and the intense brush strokes of the paintings by Eddie Martinez, Dana Schutz and Helen Verhoeven manifest a radical return to the figurative art by citing historical precedents: lunch on the grass, gatherings around the table and big ballrooms. Do all these remind you of anything? Probably yes… Each of these figurative painters is struggling hard to do exactly what many contemporary artists and critics have already done: they are unfolding a dialogue with the history of art in order to retrieve the human figure in art. I doubt though if this particular dialogue offers anything new or meaningful to the debate.

Eddie Martinez, Saatchi Gallery

Eddie Martinez, The Feast, 2010, Mixed media on canvas
Triptych, 243.84 x 853.44 cm

Dana Schutz, Saatchi Gallery

Dana Schutz, Singed Picnic, 2008, Oil on canvas, 204 x 230 cm

In a similar spirit are also Jansson Stegner’s paintings. He replaces the muses of Romanticism with female police officers that lean or crouch on rocks and stare the viewer with a gaze that wavers between authority and eroticism. On the other hand, Makiko Kudo adopts the style of anime and manga. She paints figures of young boys and girls presenting them dangled in dreamy surroundings of a lost innocence, such as the foliage of a forest or the waters of a lake. Nothing new. Nothing unpredictable. Nothing that would make the viewer to stand for minutes and minutes in front of the painting trying to solve and understand its mystery.

Jansson Stegner, Body Language, Saatchi Gallery, London

Jansson Stegner, Sarabande, 2006, Oil on linen, 99 x 86.4 cm

Makiko Kudo, Saatchi Gallery

Makiko Kudo, Stage Curtain, 2011, Oil on canvas, 194.5 x 259.2 cm

Among the shallowness and the amateurism of these paintings, Denis Tarasov’s powerful photographs of mobster tombstones – that develop an interesting connection with Marianne Vitale’s wooden graves –appeared like precious diamonds. Denis Tarasov documents with his photographs the vanity of human life; the tombstones illustrate the deceased standing in front of luxurious cars, wearing expensive jewelries, drinking wine, celebrating materiality and wealth even at the moment of death. In addition, Andra Ursuta’s installation Vandal Lust– a machine of violence and destruction – also escapes the framework of body language or figurative art and it seems like not being part of the exhibition.

Helen Verhoeven, Saatchi Gallery

Helen Verhoeven, Event One, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 198 x 404 cm

Body Language is an exhibition that tries to prove that figurative art is alive even nowadays. Unfortunately, it does it in the wrong way. Definitely figurative art is still alive. It has always been – either as a struggle to expand the ways and the forms of representing the human figure or as the starting point to which many artists opposed in an attempt to create more experimental or abstract art. However, I wonder… Are the artworks included in this exhibition sufficient and capable of reflecting the contemporary figurative art?

Installation view, Saatchi Gallery

Installation view, Marianne Vitale Marker Series, 2011 & Denis Tarasov, Essence Series, 2013

“Body Language” will be on display till the 16th of March 2014 at Saatchi Gallery, London

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by Dimitra Gkitsa
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory