When in London, go to the Saatchi Gallery

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I come back to art, reporting a few impressions after visiting the contemporary art gallery Saatchi, in the heart of Chelsea, London. I’m currently staying not far from here, so I really had no excuse not to pop in and see what’s on display.

The entry to the gallery is free, and everything is extremely neat and polished, suggesting from the very beginning for the amount of money that must circulate behind it. Even the richest museum (as paradoxical as the phrase may be these days) cannot compete with the superb organisation and visitor experience provided. The current exhibition is ‘Pangea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America’. I’m always very curious about artists I don’t know, so the idea of immersing myself into a whole new range of contemporary artists coming from outside Europe was just thrilling.

The first gallery presented a floor covered in blue plastic bags, leaving only some 50 cm at the edges for people to walk around and experience the installation. I would have happily read something about the artwork, but unfortunately there was scarcely the name of the artist and the title of the work on the wall. At any rate, even without knowing much of what the piece was about, it was a strong enough way to kick off the tour, as well as being the most ‘unconventional’ artwork of the exhibition. Indeed, the second gallery was described by a visitor as ‘This is art, I like it’, after claiming he didn’t get the previous installation. Admittedly, the walls displayed nice traditional canvases by Federico Herrero (see picture above), which, in spite of being abstract and not containing any recognisable subject, nevertheless offered a (more) pleasant and rewarding experience. The colour combinations had a positive and energising effect, at least on me, which made me think about the many things art can do to us, among which precisely give us energy and recharge us.

More conceptual works were on display in the upper floor, where there was a really interesting painting by Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga, showing a woman all made of electronic micro-chips (see picture above). I read on the gallery website that Kamuanga’s works ‘speak of a young culture enraptured by commercialism, grappling with the new joys and anxieties born of African urbanism’. To me, the work could further be interpreted as a denounce to our modern obsession with technology, which is so absorbing and permeating in our daily routine that it almost devour us, and reduces us to nothingness. Being so dependent on technology makes us lose our physicality, and possibly our deeper selves. Other works were as thought-provoking, even though perhaps disturbing, like the paintings by Alda Cervantes, in which the prominence of penises, blood, and violent women can hardly been overstated. And yet, as unfiltered as her works can be, it must be admitted that it provides an interesting reflection on gender roles and boundaries, throwing at the visitor’s face images and ideas that cannot be overlooked.

In general, the exhibition explores the reaction to artists to their own local and political surroundings, to the gender situation in their countries, and the anxieties their societies are facing. Interesting is also to see how visitors react to the art they are presented with. Especially with contemporary art, where the aesthetic experience may go beyond the mere pleasantness of shape and beauty of colour, and may appeal (also) to our conceptual side, people are more or less ready to embrace this. With one last image, it is as if, entering a contemporary gallery, the visitor had to become a white canvas himself/herself, on which the artworks may imprint their beauty or meaning. Or both.

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