Champagne life cover imag

By Julie Dimenstein

Saatchi Gallery, London, marks its 30th anniversary with the first ever exhibition exclusively featuring female artists. ‘Champagne Life’ represents 14 emerging contemporary female artists, who are finally being taken as seriously as their male peers. The ironic name of the exhibition ‘Champagne Life’ is taken from an exuberant art piece by Julia Wachtel, that is showcased in the first gallery. Wachtel’s painted-over screen-prints, inspired by pop-artists from the 60’s, reflect our consumerist and celebrity culture. The highlight of Wachtel’s space depicts pixelated and inverted images of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West juxtaposed next to an overlaid image of a kitschy Minnie Mouse sculpture.

The grotesqueness of this artwork encourages the viewers to question what is more real from these two images: Minnie or the famous couple?

The title of the exhibition derives from a song by R&B artist Ne-Yo released in 2010. the lyrics of this song talk about how it is ‘livin’ this champagne life’ where ‘everything’s OK’ and where ‘the dreams and reality are the same’. The correlation between the name of the exhibition and the song’s title is perhaps that champagne-popping lifestyle is some modern utopia that is at conflict with the not so galmorous reality of the art world.

Soheila Sokhanvari's 
'Moje Sabz', 2011
Soheila Sokhanvari's 'Moje Sabz', 2011

Despite the on-going battle for equality, female artists made only 8% of the total art sold at auction in 2015

Unfortunately, art produced by men is more valued in the art market. Statistics show that female artists made only 8% of the total art sold at auction last year. It’s also true that the most expensive artwork made by a living female artist – Cady Noland ‘Bluewald’ – was sold for $7.1 million, whereas the sculpture named ‘Balloon Dog’ by Jeff Koons was sold for $58.4 million and set the world record as the highest price at auction for a living male artist. Furthermore, exhibitions in the world’s most famous museums on average consist of less than 30 per cent of female artist’s work. The situation in art institutions is not balanced either: in the last 30 years only 6 women have won the Turner Prize. It seems like life for emerging female artists is not so ‘champagne’ at all.

All the artworks exhibited at the Saatci Gallery’s show are diverse, and have nothing in common, expect to see humorous taxidermy, giant installations and wax sculptures. As an exhibition, it showcases various topics presented by artists born and bred in different parts of the world.

For instance, one of the most eye-catching art pieces on display is ‘Moje Sabz’ – a taxidermy horse on top of a blue jesmonite blob by Iranian-born artist Soheila Sokhanvari. Her work in the so-called ‘magic realism’ genre is a comical representation of political implications in the East and West.

Left: Echoué au seuil de la raison, by Virgile Ittah, 2014. Centre: Ljubica, by Jelena Bulajic, 2012. Right: Alis Lange, by Jelena Bulajic, 2012.
Left: Echoué au seuil de la raison, by Virgile Ittah, 2014. Centre: Ljubica, by Jelena Bulajic, 2012. Right: Alis Lange, by Jelena Bulajic, 2012.

There are also more personal works like ‘Autolandscape’ and ‘Maitreya’ by South Korean artist Seung Ah Paik. Her large canvases consist of drawings of her own exaggerated and abstracted body parts.

Using traditional Eastern painting landscape techniques she represents self-embodiment and the experience of self-observation.

“Large raw canvases drape from floor to ceiling upon which monumental expanses of flesh are rendered. With this ensemble of cracked heels, bud nipples, broad hands, and mess of limbs, artist Seung Ah Paik offers a poignant and uniquely truthful depiction of her relationship to her own flesh.”

– Saatchi Gallery

SEUNG AH PAIK's Autolandscape
SEUNG AH PAIK's Autolandscape

Other outstanding art pieces of the exhibition include the room-filling sculptures ‘Bound’ and ‘181 Kilometers’ by Alice Anderson.

The work 181 kilometres, commissioned especially for the Saatchi Gallery, bears testament to the intensely physical activity of sculptures. Anderson walked 181 kilometres to ’spun’ an entire sphere with copper thread that took days to create, allowing the artist to enter an almost Zen like meditative state of concentration and choreography.

She expresses her thoughts on loss of the tangible during an era of  digitalisation.

Despite the dissimilarity of themes, this female-only exhibition conveys a strong message that female artist’s work is just as valuable as male artists’ and maybe now is the time to redress the balance in the art world. This show has already drawn the attention of press and visitors from across the world and proves that female artists will not be marginalised as a separate group but will be treated equally in the common ground with men.

Hopefully, the glass ceiling issue in the majority of mainstream exhibitions in museums and galleries will not be longer applied.

‘Champagne Life’ is open until March 6th at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

‘Bound’ and ‘181 Kilometers’ by Alice Anderson
‘Bound’ and ‘181 Kilometers’ by Alice Anderson

All images courtesy of Saatchi Gallery

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March 4, 2016