Eyebrow-raising exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery – ‘Black Mirror: Art As Social Satire’

Currently running at the Saatchi Gallery Black Mirror is bound to raise a few eyebrows for various reasons. Artworks by 26 artists in the spirit of Pop artists and Dadaists address consumerism, fake news and the status of art in contemporary society. Some works will make you smile, others will make you feel puzzled or even uncomfortable.

Among the most popular installations in the exhibition is the Walk a Mile in My Shoes (2006) by Bedwyr Williams. It is a tongue-in-cheek autobiographic installation. Each pair of size 13 shoes on display comes with a personalized tag. The shoes are described as having distinct personalities and they connect to different events in the artist’s life.

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Walk a Mile in My Shoes (2006) by Bedwyr Williams (detail, photo: Ground Impressions)

Several sculptures and installations are quite clever, even if very literal, such as the Burned Bridge by Marianne Vitale, or the Coal Mirror by Alejandra Prieto. Works by Roman Stańczak (such as his disembowelled couch and disintegrating bedside cabinet) and Valerie Hogarty (partially burned and deformed paintings) are eye-catching pieces playing with the notion of the act of artistic creation. They are acts of destruction and creation at the same time.

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Valerie Hogarty Niagara Falls (2007, installation view from the Black Mirror exhibition, photo: Ground Impressions)

One of the most interesting artworks on display is Cash Cow (2012) by Jade Townsend. Only on close inspection the visitor finds out that this is, in fact, a ‘big red painting about sex and death’… or is it?

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Cash Cow (2012) by Jade Townsend (installation view from the Black Mirror exhibition, photo: Ground Impressions)

While the sculptures mentioned above are interesting to look at, the lack of detailed labels is an issue. It would be nice to have a bit of context and explanation, especially for the more ambiguous pieces. The labels provided are not much of a help, in some places matching the title with the work is a challenge in itself.

Several works exploring the world of media, news and advertisement failed to make an impression and were quite repetitive. It seemed that the gallery went for the quantity rather than quality. Works with obvious satirical content were unfortunately few and far between.

There is a room wholly devoted to photographs by Richard Billingham. Looking at a series of photographs of the artist’s family in their council flat left me uneasy. Presenting these far from flattering shots of Billingham’s dysfunctional family as works of art seemed ethically ambiguous. For a different reason I was puzzled by The Interview (2007) by Gao Brothers. It is a large black-and-white photomontage featuring a bunch of the most famous villains from recent history. Is there any deep meaning or artistic merit to this fictional meeting of dictators and genocidal maniacs including Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein? Again no explanation given on the label. It seems that the gallery wants the viewers to figure things out on their own. Many visitors focused purely on photo opportunities anyway.

I left Black Mirror with mixed feelings. While some works were striking and thought-provoking, a large number of artworks did not exhibit any obvious satirical qualities, instead they were meant to unsettle or shock the viewers (with varying results). Overall, the exhibition as a whole can be seen as one large piece of social satire, as it explores what passes off as art these days.

Black Mirror: Art As Social Satire is a free exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, London runs from 28 September 2018 till 13 January 2019.

You can check out the gallery website here:

https://www.saatchigallery.com/

 

 

 

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