Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide


of an Exhibition

by Regan Forrest

Published on October 19, 2011, Modified on October 20, 2011

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    A couple of weeks ago I finally made the time to check out the Saatchi Gallery in Adelaide: British Art Now exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Art Gallery has turned over some 70% of its total exhibition space to the display of items from the famous (infamous?) Saatchi Gallery in London.

    I’m not going to pretend to know or understand anything about contemporary art – I’m not sure if ‘understanding’ is even the point of the particularly iconoclastic and challenging brand of art that Saatchi seemingly favours – so I’m not going to contribute to the ongoing ‘is this really art?’ debate that surrounds these kinds of works. Rather, I’ll share some general impressions and pieces I found interesting.

    I don’t go to contemporary art exhibitions expecting an overall theme or ‘interpretive message’ to emerge as I might expect at a science or history exhibition. But one thing I did notice about a lot of the art on display was that it seemed to be as much about the process of making art as it was about the finished piece itself. This is exemplified by Juliana Cerqueira Leite’s three works Up, Down and Oh.The label for “Oh” describes the painstaking process of creating the clay mould for the balloon structure (see picture). A similar process was used to create the works “Up” and “Down” by hand-digging into a large block of clay, either from the bottom up or top down, and then casting the form created in plaster. “Up” is black to represent the increasing darkness of boring up into the clay block. “Down” in particular shows numerous indentations from the artists hands and knees as she excavates the clay (see picture).

    Probably one of the most well known and controversial works on display was “My Bed” by Tracy Emin. I was living in the UK the year this work was shortlisted for the Turner Prize and I remember the media and political outcry it caused at the time. While I’d seen many pictures, descriptions and criticisms of the work before (so its contents were no surprise), the label accompanying the work gave me a new insight: apparently, the idea of the piece came about after Emin (legendary for her hard living) woke up after a two-day drinking bender, feeling lucky to be alive after all she had drunk. Looking at the squalor of her room, it occurred to her that, had she died, this would have been the setting her body would have been found in. This piece of back story made me look at the work with fresh eyes as a statement on mortality and the legacy we leave.

    On reflection though, I think my favourite work in the exhibition is one I almost missed – Tessa Farmer’s “Swarm”. At first glance, it just looks like a display case suspended with dead insects, and I almost walked straight past thinking that was all there was to it. However, while in one sense it is indeed a case of dead insects, Farmer has used insect parts to create amazingly intricate sculptures of fairy-like creatures waging battle (see picture). I could have spent ages looking at all the different pieces and their amazing attention to detail. Although this was getting towards the end of my visit and by this stage my feet were killing me.

    This brings me to some final comments about the design and overall experience of the space – the works were well-spaced out, allowing each its own space to ‘breathe’ and allowing viewing from multiple vantage points. There are apparently something like 120 pieces on display, spread over what I’d guess to be at least 2000-3000 square metres of gallery space. However there was precious little seating provided over this large area (I only remember seeing one seating unit), hence my aching feet towards the end.

    My other issue is that I could have very easily have missed half of the exhibition: it is spread over two levels, one that is accessed via the main entrance on North Terrace, and another level two floors below (the middle floor is the rear access to the Gallery and includes the cafe and shop). I only realised there was more to see when I joined a guided tour of the exhibition after I thought I’d already ‘seen everything’ and was just curious about what the tour guide would have to say. The two parts of the exhibition were linked by a staircase where there were temporary signs that indicated you needed a ticket to enter. However there was nothing on these signs to suggest that the exhibition continued on another level. Had I decided to bypass the shop or cafe and go back the way I came in, I could have missed the lower level completely.

    (This is a modified version of a blog post originally posted at

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