American Abstraction’s New Wave at Saatchi Gallery


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by Emily Waldorf

After taking in European 18th century painters at the Wallace Collection and Impressionist and Modern masters at the Courtauld Gallery, walking into the Saatchi Gallery’s current exhibition, Abstract America: New Painting and Sculpture, is a breath of fresh air. Housed in the Duke of York’s building on the King’s Road in London’s Chelsea neighborhood, the exhibition is produced in partnership with Phillips de Pury & Company.

It is exciting to see so many talented Los Angeles artists, such as Jedediah Ceasar, Mark Grotjhan, Sterling Ruby and Amanda Ross-Ho represented in Abstract America. Other artists featured in the show include Kristin Baker, John Bauer, Mark Bradford, Carter, Peter Coffin, Guerra de la Paz, Francesca DiMattio, Bart Exposito, Jacob Hashimoto, Rachel Harrison, Patrick Hill, Ryan Johnson, Matt Johnson, Paul Lee, Chris Martin, Elizabeth Neel, Baker Overstreet, Stephen G. Rhodes, Gedi Sibony, Amy Sillman, Kirsten Stoltmann, Dan Walsh and Aaron Young.

This is the first time that many of the artists are showing their work in the U.K. and the exhibition has been met by critical acclaim in the British press. Michael Glover wrote in the The Independent about how the new generation of American abstract artists happily don’t take themselves as seriously as the prior generation:

This feels like work which is gloriously impure, and polluted by the world that surrounds it…Artists are natural scavengers, but these artists are experts at it. This work contains elements of story-telling, something that would have been anathema to the Abstract Impressionists, who wanted to purge art of the superficiality of narrative to get to the essence of stark sign-making. This is an art which has the capacity to laugh at itself and the art world of which it is a part. It feels looser and freer and, well, funnier too. It makes time for casualness and superficiality because life in part consists of those things.”

The goal of the exhibition is to showcase the new crop of American artists experimenting with the nouvelle vague of abstraction and cultural expression in our hyper digitized and socially networked era. The exhibition is installed in thirteen separate galleries spanning three floors of glass, concrete, and stark white walls. The mediums are diverse but all of the work somehow addresses a fresh need for storytelling and documenting cultural excess.

Gallery 1 kicks off the show with three larger than life mixed-media crosses by Agathe Snow. The works include balloons, found objects, cloth, rope, wood, concrete, and wire mesh. Snow’s crosses tower over the viewer and set the unorthodox tone and common theme of an omnipresent and threatening third party that spies on 21st century life.

Jedediah Caesar’s impressive painting/sculpture hybrid, Dry Stock, 2007, in Gallery 8 is made of twenty-nine individual panels put together as one monumental block of resin measuring 7 ½ x 17 ½ feet x ¾ inches. Caesar collected used materials from carpentry and metal cutting factories and recycled them as readymade blocks of texturized color that were sealed into the work. He deftly makes formal art and social commentary out of recycled forms.

In Gallery 11, Amy Sillman’s haunting oil on canvas painting, Bed, 2006, depicts two figures embracing tightly in a bed, while a third ghost like figure hovers above menacingly. The flesh like pastel colors mixed with grays and browns, and delicate brushstrokes contrasted with sweeping blocks of color create an uneasy tension that dominates the work. Abstract America is a well-curated sample of what American artists are doing and how they build on the past to create new form. Abstract America is on view until September 13, 2009 at the Saatchi Gallery, London.