East does not meet West, and you will not discover anything new or exciting at the Saatchi Gallery in London. The title of the exhibition misleads: it should actually be named ‘USA and UK meets Russia and China’ or ‘Capitalism meets Communism’.
The list of artists, mainly coming from America, Great Britain, Russia and China, is long and bombastic. The art appears spectacular and ostentatious, and includes works by Ai Weiwei, Jeff Koons, Paul McCarthy, AES+F and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The display and the combination turned to be amateurish and rather arrogant, while the six themes used as frameworks to present the show – Habitat; Advertising and Consumerism; Religion and Ideology; Sex and the Body; Art History; Celebrity and Mass Media – are confused and therefore, useless.
Despite a number of significant works from the end of the 80s and the 90s, the exhibition mainly tells us about the global influence of some upstart collectors – such as Charles Saatchi – who entered the art world in the last decades of the 19th century and started competing with public institutions, imposing their personal taste, in the collection, selection and promotion of contemporary art.
Luckily, the world financial crises of 2007 and 2008 slowed down the expansion of the phenomenon and brought back the attention to the contents and to a more discreet and less flamboyant genre. Nevertheless, whereas art critics and art historians tent to underestimate the influence of collectors/patrons/sponsors of the calibre of Saatchi – another example could be the French tycoon Francois Pinault – this exhibition gives credit where credit is due. Maybe this is what makes Post-Pop: East meets West interesting!
In fact, the exhibition demonstrates, for instance, the effect these new kinds of collectors had on a generation of Chinese artists, who tried to please them by imitating and emphasizing the tacky and flashy style of the art they already owned in their collections. It also suggests the influence they are still having on the growing and vibrant Russian art scene, where the number of powerful collectors is dramatically increasing. Finally, it shows how extended geographically the spread of this trend has been, and maybe still is.
Therefore, even though I was expecting to see more art from the East due to the title (some pieces from the Karachi Pop movement and its disciples for example), I was deeply relieved to notice that most of the works exhibited appeared vintage today because I consider them outcomes of an unhappy phase of contemporary art. That said, I still believe it would be a mistake to avoid acknowledgement to the phenomenon and to its on-going consequences.
‘Post-Pop: East meets West’ is at the Saatchi Gallery, London, until 3 March 2015.
Lavinia Filippi is an art critic, curator and writer based in London and Italy. She has worked for international art galleries and museums and is a writer and anchor for Italian National Television (RAI)