- •Contact us
- •About us
- •Advertise with the FT
- •Terms & conditions
© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
July 8, 2012 6:00 pm
There are compelling reasons to visit Jenny Saville’s first UK public show: her singular, single-minded project to stick to figurative painting, the most unfashionable thing in the world when she was at art school in the early 1990s; her feminist take on the female nude – women’s images of naked women are still rare; the monumentality of her canvases, which insist that painting compete, at billboard size, with louder media in our age of spectacle. And so her paintings do: giant expanses of bruised, blotched skin, rolls of flesh, twisted facial features. After Damien Hirst, Saville is the most instantly recognisable figure of the Sensation generation, the Young British Artists who reinvigorated British art with a new take on a brutalist, flesh-as-meat aesthetic.
From “Trace” (1993), an arched, door-like massed form representing an ungainly naked back, with traces of marks left by bra, knickers, waistband, and “Fulcrum” (1997-99), the 5m depiction of outsize, bulging supine bodies, each seeming to morph into another, to a hanging carcase, “Torso II” (2004-05), referencing Soutine, and the recent “Pentimenti” series, self-portrait drawings of the artist with her baby and toddler, alluding to the Madonna and Child motif and especially Leonardo, everything here announces Saville’s easy virtuosity and unceasing dialogue with both art history and today’s cosmetics/advertising industry.
Is it ungenerous to wish for more? Maybe, but painting of this scale and formal connection to the expressive tradition demands more. Saville’s position in contemporary art – and the effect on the scope of her ambition of Charles Saatchi’s early patronage, then representation by Gagosian – makes this grandiose display thought-provoking, intriguing. Yet within minutes I found myself bored by the actual work, because no painting offered resistance, doubt, a history of its own struggle to find form, consolidate an image. Instead, slick efficiency and neat packaging of ideas about identity, gender, appropriation, denote an artist for whom expressive language is not felt or worked through, but is merely a conceptual tool: the perfect YBA painter.
Until September 16, www.modernartoxford.org.uk
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.