Champagne Life at Saatchi: a disjointed joy
The much criticized all-female Champagne Life exhibition, featuring 14 contemporary women artists at the Saatchi Gallery, deserves more credit than it has received.
Most of the criticism arrogantly overshadows the artists, focusing on the gallery’s notorious owner and seemingly confusing curatorial decisions rather than the art presented. While criticism of its controversial name change, sponsorship, and ploy to boost Charles Saatchi’s public image has validity, Champagne Life and its curation smartly features an exquisite range of artists working in a variety of media and styles.
The combination of Julia Dault’s sculptures and Marie Angeletti’s mixed-media images in Gallery 6 makes for a spectacular juxtaposition between the two artists’ styles, no doubt a deliberate decision of the curators.
On the surface, Dault’s and Angeletti’s work couldn’t be more different. But combined, their pieces work together and challenge perception.
Room 6 is quite large given the relatively small sizes of the works it contains. With only six total works between the two artists generously spaced out along the walls, the design leaves the center of the room empty, making it hard for viewers to decide where to start.
But Dault’s sculptures, emerging from the walls, draw the eye. Both artworks, which bookend the room, are tethered to the wall with sting and Everlast boxing hand wraps, giving the impression that at any moment they might spring free. This imaginative tension between the materials gives some much-needed movement to a room that would otherwise feel static.
The sculptures are surprisingly multidimensional; the folds and twists of the multi-colored Plexiglas create a dynamic final product that looks effortless, yet the nicks in the pieces are evidence that the artist struggled with the materials, which she assembled on site. The works also have a notable reflective quality that places the viewer into the piece, distorting images like mirrors in a funhouse. However, Dault’s works aren’t the only ones that do this; one of Angeletti’s images (TLYA 14_Parrot) features a cutout of a parrot placed on a mirror, which similarly puts the viewer into the work.
Angeletti’s pieces consist of multiple images of various sizes and media arranged together. The parrot is accompanied by digital prints of photos, drawings and paintings. Her hodgepodge of imagery includes everything from stylized paintings to a cartoon image of Minnie Mouse (providing a subtle reminder of Julia Wachtel’s title piece at the beginning of the exhibition). While seeming arbitrary, Angeletti’s groupings allow viewers to make their own connections and form diverse meanings.
Seeing Dault’s and Angeletti’s works side-by-side makes it evident that the whole exhibition boils down to the perception of the art world. How do works change when seen in contrast to other artists’ work? How do works change when viewers see themselves literally reflected in them?
The entire curation of Champagne Life hammers in the idea of perception: the perception of artists, the perception of women artists, the perception of the materials in relation to one another, and the perception of what the artwork means and how those meanings change.
Apparent in many of the galleries, the overarching concept falls flat in those that only feature one artist. It’s in the rooms that combine multiple artists that you see the curators’ intent: the fact that the exhibition as a whole feels disjointed is the point.
* NOTE: This review was completed 16 Feb. 2016 as part of a class assignment