There’s something not quite right about the latest show at the Saatchi Gallery. Champagne Life is so named after one of featured artist, Julia Wachtel’s works: an ironic contrast between the glamorous exhibition opening and the long hours spent in a miserable studio. Or is it – more convincingly – simply brown nosing of the show’s sponsor, Pommery Champagne?
For this title underlines one of the major issues at play here. It is gaining much media coverage as an exhibition comprised solely of female artists, challenging the received male canon. Yet look at previous Saatchi shows: their themes are dictated by country, such as India Art Today; New Art from Germany; China Now. Saatchi has long been trying to claim lost supremacy by predicting the next big thing, and here he is at it again in choosing to focus solely on women artists. Just like a selection of artists who have in common a shared geographical location, the result is bound by nature to be a mixed bag of themes, purposes, mediums. Instead of Champagne Life, the title Tampon Life night as well be used as at least women undeniably have this in common. What, are they all champagne swilling artists living a utopian existence where more is paid for female than male produced artworks?! Surely the title must be ironic! Remember, of the top 50 contemporary auction lots sold by Christies in 2015, 8% were by women. The champagne, it must be said, is enjoyed solely by male artists.
Furthermore, by choosing to isolate women artists in an isolated show, the male dominated canon is well and truly unchallenged. There may be some stunning work produced, but in defying the work the right to be shown alongside male artists, the exhibition achieves the opposite effect of its aim, in turn undermining the artists participating. It is like exhibiting an entry out of competition: it doesn’t really square itself up against the big guns.
The new Ghostbusters featuring an all female cast springs to mind. It’s the equivalent of Lego remaking a Monty Python sequence – the essential creative features are the same but the performers are physically different. It’s demeaning to suggest women can do it just as well as men, when it would be more beneficial to demonstrate how women can bring something else to the table. In this light why not have a mixed Ghostbusters?! The segregation here is alarming.
Certainly, feminism is making changes to society in leaps and bounds, yet there is a long way still to go. I’m just not convinced that this is anything other than Saatchi’s calculated method to claw back some influence in the art world. The man who choked Nigella Lawson is really an equal opportunities supporter. Really.
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