Art review: Contemporary Ukrainian Artists, Saatchi Gallery, London
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for The Independent and winner of the 2011 Frieze International Writers Prize. Her first novel, Eat My Heart Out, will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2014. She is also researching a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists. She has appeared on BBC's The Review Show and Sky News
Wednesday 23 October 2013
What does Ukrainian art bring to mind? Walking around this exhibition of miscellaneous contemporary artists, two themes are noticeable: first, the image of people watching disaster unfold, impassive. Second, the image of muscular bodies falling gracefully through space.
Is this a sign of the country’s artistic talent responding to a political system in which they have no voice? A use of the national sport of rhythmic gymnastics as a metaphor of existential free-fall, at once dreamy and doomed?
Of course it is fatuous to try to construct an idea of a nation through one exhibition. This is clear at the RA’s Australia exhibition, where that continent is reduced to its holiday brochure elements. These paintings and sculptures hint at fascinating social currents in contemporary Ukraine, but sadly few are well realised. They seem to be in the process of finding their own style; much appears derivative of hackneyed Western European and American motifs. There are digital starbursts, a portrait of a man who might be Karl Lagerfeld or Andy Warhol, a palm tree, pastoral landscapes; it’s all very confused.
However, some paintings stand out because they possess an authentic strangeness. Most notably, Aurora (2012) is a large oil painting by Arsen Savadov. On first glance, it looks like a soft-porn wall mural from a seedily opulent hotel dining room. On closer inspection, it is unclear whether the painting is in fact an ironic meta-comment on such seediness or seediness itself. It is an unnerving dreamscape wherein the world is being turned upside down and no one seems to care.
The painting shows a buxom, bare-breasted blonde woman staring mournfully down at a vast banquet table as its cloth is dragged away and dishes, glasses, and plants crash everywhere. A middle-aged man wearing a party-hat clings onto her; he looks similarly mournful. Why are they contemplating destruction with such wistful fatalism? Where is their shock? The palette is dominated by a shabbily glamorous salmon-pink, the brushstrokes are raw and quick, as though the artist were sketching out a fantasy before he forgot it.
The second painting which stands out is Experience I (2010-2011) by Artem Volokitin. Elegant male gymnasts spiral and fall in uniformity, mirrors of one another. The painting points to socialist realist art and the grim beauty of industrialisation. Above, a pylon towers. Man reflects machine. The message seems trite but the work is more eloquent than most here.
19th Oct – 24th Oct
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 2 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
- 3 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 4 Fifa corruption: Qatar says investigations are racist, anti-Arab and show 'ugly face' of countries who lost 2022 World Cup bid
- 5 We have six months to save the world, says leading economist
Game of Thrones, Battle of Hardhome: 20-minute Wildlings versus White Walkers battle took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Touch-screen Teletubbies say hello: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are back, now with smart technology
Ed Sheeran debuts new song 'Sweet Mary Jane' about his love affair with weed
Black Angel: Long lost Star Wars precursor to be made into crowdfunded feature film
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers