Visual Art: The trouble with Saatchi

He created an art movement. He built a gallery. He made the visual arts a talking point. But as Charles Saatchi's new exhibition reveals, he's overly fond of the brash, the violent and the twisted. And heaven help any artists over 30. By Tom Lubbock

Justice to Saatchi. He's bought and shown (and sold again) some good art from time to time. He's built a fine gallery, the whitest walls in town, which can make even the most hopeless piece look briefly plausible. And he has half-created, and sustained, a whole art movement - and accidentally named it too.

The Young British Artists, of course. When that Nineties phenomenon finally found its coolly neutral label, it derived from the (merely descriptive) title of a series of six shows at the Saatchi Gallery. It wasn't a purely Saatchi project; there were artists in the movement who were never in those shows, and vice versa. But it wouldn't have happened without him.

Of course, there's a problem too. Saatchi's influence on British art has been a very mixed blessing. He's put the stress on youth so much that artists can feel washed up if they're not famous by 30, and that's absurd. And while his tastes are broad, he obviously has his particular penchants. Understandably, he likes art which is like adverts. He also likes art which is violent, crass, yukky and pervy. So maybe some artists, trying to turn themselves into a Saatchi type, have become worse than they might. Unquestionably some bad artists have got more famous than they should. I think the artist-bursaries he's initiating will be a dubious benefit. But none of this touches the real problem.

The problem with Saatchi is simple, and no fault of his: he's the only one. If there were a few other British collectors, equally rich, equally keen, equally confident, equally ambitious for their fame, and pursuing their own lines, the situation would be very different. The art world, like others, is a world where money and enterprise speak. What it lacks is competition. In this country, there's only one big art voice speaking.

Therefore, Saatchi is king. He's a king in the old style, credited with a magic eye and a Midas touch. What artist doesn't dream secretly, or openly, of his favour? What art institution dare stand aside from the general superstition that where Saatchi moves, the age must follow? What visitor to his gallery can resist the aura of force majeure that bathes any work displayed there? It may not always seem much good, but no matter, it is surely the great happening thing. And, with all this, it's quite hard, but quite important, to remember another simple point: that Saatchi has bought, and continues to buy, some real dogs.

Now he's just invented a new art phenomenon. With "Sensation", the Young British Artist rubric had done its job. Time to re-brand. Time for some more active-history management. So a new series of shows are in the offing, explicitly packaged as a movement - an art movement that on this occasion (by a happy chance) consists entirely of artists recently purchased by Saatchi, 30-odd of them. And a name? Last year a glossy catalogue was issued, entitled The New Neurotic Realism. But this year - because no longer new? - it's just called Neurotic Realism.

When I first heard it, I thought of a curious artist who, years ago, used to send lengthy Roneo-d communications to arts journalists, announcing that he had, in his time, invented no less than 119 separate art movements, and why wasn't he more famous? There was a list of the movements, which I've lost, but they were often devised on a straight combinatory principle - inspired by Abstract Expressionism, presumably. So you'd have Abstract Surrealism, and Cubist Impressionism, and Pointillist Mannerism. Neurotic Realism sounded like it might have come from the same mind.

But it would be futile to ponder the "thought" behind this, or to worry about whether the artists so grouped have anything in common. I daresay they themselves find it an irksome label. Perhaps it's meant as annoying or silly, simply a talking point - and, you notice, I've been talking.

So now there's the first batch on show at the Gallery: Neurotic Realism Part 1. And it's a measure of the wonderful power of Saatchi's name that the exhibition has a sponsor. Please savour that astonishing fact for a moment. Here is a private collector, showing work from his own private collection, in his own private gallery - and some other business is paying him; paying him in cash or kind, so that... well, for the usual motive of publicity by association, but here without even the flimsiest pretext of the public good. It's like sponsoring Barclays Bank. The sponsor in question is what we in the press call "Another Newspaper".

Good heavens, I'm in no position to be high-minded. Look what I'm doing myself. I mean, I wouldn't normally devote a main art review to a group exhibition of five, so modestly gifted artists. And in any other gallery, I wouldn't be obliged to. But at the name of Saatchi, every ear shall bend, and tongue wag. Still, let's try at least to keep our witness true.

This is a proper dog show. The main reason it doesn't look immediately ignorable is that, in some parts, it's also physically enormous. For example, the entire space of the main gallery, a lot of square-footage, is covered in rubbish.

Tomoko Takahashi's installation is a late addition to that popular genre, a whole-lot-of-the-same-kind-of-thing-all-over-the-floor. In this case it's miscellaneous junk, huge quantities of it, arranged in an archipelago of tableaux-dumps, and in each dump there's an electric gadget, like a TV or a tape recorder or an adding machine, still working away, but pointlessly (nothing on the TV, no tape in the recorder). It seemed likely that a single, absolutely enormous pile would be more effective. But it would still be a techno-dystopian vision of our culture of consumption and waste - and that won't do, will it?

Martin Maloney's paintings are also extremely big, and might - in different hands - be up to something. The naive, the dumb, the cack-handed, these are modes that some painters, like early Hockney or early Baselitz, have made good with, and others have at least made funny. Not here. Crude manner is matched by crude imagery: gay night life, with rimming, felching and arse-burglary. It's art that has "rude stuff for rich mugs" written all over it.

Paul Smith's photos are Cindy Sherman plus digital manipulation. Something that looks like a photo-document of a lads' drunken night out turns out to be a fiction with all the parts played by the artist. The work is vaguely knowing about masculine oafishness and social-realist photography. To be interesting, it would have to be much funnier.

Steven Gontarski's sculptures - obscene, mutant humanoid figures, made from transparent PVC stuffed with nylon wool, hey ho - were what specifically reminded me that the Saatchi Gallery can make even the most hopeless pieces look briefly plausible. And I have temporarily forgotten what the fifth thing was. Oh yes: a kind of Nasa control room, life-size, made Blue Peter- style, out of cardboard, with the instruments, knobs, dials etc represented - at first glance, deceptively - by bottle tops, paper plates, dog-bowls, hosepipes, plastic drainers and laundry baskets: quite amusing for a moment. By Brian C Griffiths.

Later Neurotic Realist shows may be a bit better. As for the present one, it's not really worth having a view about. And perhaps that's the hardest point to take, because it's where the Saatchi spell has its strongest hold: in the thought that, like it or loathe it, you've got to have a view. But you don't. This show at the Saatchi Gallery - let alone this "art movement" - is among the many millions of things in the world you don't need to think about at all.

Neurotic Realism Part 1: Saatchi Gallery, 98A Boundary Road, London NW8; open Thursday-Sunday, noon-6pm, until 4 April; admission pounds 4 (concs pounds 2)

Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media