Culture Review: The Saatchi Gallery

Nestled in between the luxuriously expensive boutiques and sprawling green parks of Chelsea, lies a hidden gem of London culture, which, surprisingly for such an affluent area, has free admission. The Saatchi Gallery boasts an impressive floor space with 15 galleries and a cinema room inside. Set within the grounds of the beautiful Duke of York’s plaza, the gallery is an impressive and elegant structure, housed inside the old Duke of York’s Headquarters. The gallery is ranked 12th nationally and is a mere moment’s walk from Sloane Square station, ideal for those who are not keen on walking too far in the heat this summer.

The current exhibition, which will continue on until the 26th July, is named ‘Out of focus: photography’. The exhibition demonstrates photos from an almost anti-photography perspective, featuring the realities of life, thought and existence, a far cry from the heavily edited and unrealistic photographs that are thrust upon us by the media. Most notably in this respect is Katy Grannan’s work in Gallery 1 of the Saatchi. Her collection of photos from afar simply look like every day portraits of everyday people against a white wall, but it is only up close can one see the flaws, imperfections and grotesqueness of these everyday people; hair scraped back painfully from the head, eyes crusty and bloodshot, sagging skin wrinkled and liver-spotted, a large hairy stomach hanging over the waistband of trousers. It is almost as if these portraits are anti-portraits, removing vanity and depicting these people in their most real lights. The Saatchi guidebook refers to her collection as “Not so much about individuals as about the range of prideful individuality among human beings, and their common fate symbolised by that ubiquitous white wall. Grannan accepts that each person has a rich history, with its victories and defeats, which a single image can only hint at, but it’s the sum total of her portraits that gives the work its power.”

The other galleries contain many other exciting works. For example galleries 3 and 4 contain the most curious sets of photos, where two seemingly opposing portraits have been ripped in half and placed together within a hairsbreadth of perfection to create the overall sense of one singular portrait with two very different sides to it. Galleries 13 and 14 display work from the Google Photography Prize ten runners up, and also the winning photographer, Viktor Johansson.  This gallery demonstrates the hard work and creativity of amateur and professional photographers alike, coming together to create the ultimate winning set of photos by Swedish Photographer, Johansson, whose collection demonstrates the lonely side of competitive sport, depicted through his work in swimming and diving – perhaps the perfect thought-provoker for the impending London 2012 Olympics.

However, possibly the most awe-inspiring piece of artwork in the Saatchi, is its only permanent installation which takes up the entirety of the 15th Gallery. Walking toward the gallery, the first overwhelming sense is the smell. A thick odorous whiff of rubbery tar clings to the air like… well, like a bad smell. But once entering the gallery this smell seemingly comes from no-where. We walked out onto the raised viewing balcony and looked around. At first glance the gallery just looks like a large spacious double height room, with the bottom half painted black and the top painted white. After much debate amongst the visitors, it was still unclear what was supposed to be in this room. It was then that we noticed what looked like a thick layer of mist right between where the black and white walls meet. It was only when we looked over the railing of the balcony and saw our faces in the blackness that we realised that actually it was a huge room entirely filled with flawlessly still black oil, the surface of which was perfectly reflective, mirroring the ceiling which gave the impression of a double height room. The effect was truly mind-blowing. The guidebook describes of this installation, named ’20:50’ by its creator Richard Wilson: “Viewed from a platform, 20:50 transforms the gallery into a site of epic illusion: simultaneously a polished floor, infinite clear pool, and expansive and indefinable virtual space that absorbs and mirrors the gallery architecture. The room is in fact entirely flooded in recycled engine oil – thick, pitch black and absolutely indelible.

‘20:50’ is reason enough to visit the Saatchi alone, but with free admission, close proximity to train and tube stations and three new exhibitions launching within the next two months, it is almost a crime not to go and appreciate the magnificent Saatchi Gallery.

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