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Art review: Hugo Boss Red Never Follows, Saatchi Gallery, London


The brand HUGO by Hugo Boss might call to mind duty-free perfume or gaunt models strutting down the catwalk in eye-wateringly expensive outfits to those who aren’t particularly interested in fashion. Indeed, there is a film here that shows gaunt models wearing red suits and red lipstick, bones protruding, subjected to a wind-machine and flashing lights. But that’s about all the fashion there is.

The twenty “international leading creators and inspiring innovators” who have been asked to collaborate with the brand to celebrate its 20th anniversary have produced art, rather than haute couture. This interactive exhibition recalls the atmosphere of The Launchpad at The Science Museum in the early 90s (which is the last time I was there): visitors can play around with things and delight in technology. Only now the technology is much more sophisticated.

There were a lot of children in attendance when I visited, due to the summer holidays, which turned these sleek, expertly designed aesthetic curiosities into playground rides and undercut the snootiness for which the fashion world is famed. This exhibition is entertaining and thoughtful, with a good combination of high-tech wonderment and creative mess.

Across one wall of the gallery, the Berlin-based Sonice Development group have created a robotic drawing installation called Emerging Colorspace (2013), which looks like a huge red abstract scrawl, shot through with anarchic green lines. Made with a machine, it has the crude appearance of a child’s drawing.

It sits well next to The Pulse of London (2013) by Italian artist Marco Barotti and Plastique Fantastique: a giant red transparent ball that visitors can attempt to climb in and out of via a slit, which is so awkward that most stagger and fall, causing much slap-stick hilarity. The entrance/exit is perhaps the most arresting part of this installation, which is designed to take the pulse of visitors, but wasn’t working when I was there. However, it is fun to stand inside a big bubble, and the kids loved it.

The whole exhibition is themed to the brand’s colours: red, black, and white. The aim is to showcase “the spirit of ‘not following’”, but one of the highlights, a film by Japanese artist Daito Manabe, seems to offer a sly critique of consumerism itself. Electric stimuli have been attached to a mass of people’s faces so that they all twitch and spasm at the same time. They look happy to be controlled.