From sublime to ridiculous at the Saatchi Gallery
Jonathan Jones, The Guardian
The Triumph of Painting sounded on paper like a cop-out. Charles Saatchi offers an exhibition whose argument - that painting rocks - we can all
get behind, and whose stars Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans are very much
on the Tate Modern menu. But Saatchi's feel for painting reveals itself
as saltier and less fashion-bound than the Tate mainstream. If he ends
with the sanctified duo of Tuymans and Dumas, the meat of this show is
an expressive selection of painting from Germany.
In the 1980s, Saatchi was all about neo-expressionist painting and in
particular its splashiest practitioner, Julian Schnabel. In 1988 Damien
Hirst must have looked to him like Schnabel's natural successor - not at
that time an insult. Saatchi is loyal to his autobiography of taste in
including the grandiosely historical Jorg Immendorff with his
pastiches of Dix and Grosz. Immendorff's paintings do not endure as
their early 20th century models will. But I was tastelessly glad to see
Immendorff is juxtaposed with Martin Kippenberger. For all
Kippenberger's jokes - I love the painting of a bar with two cheap brass
lamps fixed to the canvas - he too is a romantic. Then there's a real
Wagnerian nutcase - the Viennese Hermann Nitsch, notorious for actions
with blood and guts, throws red paint at giant canvases in a reductio ad
absurdum of expression that is profoundly impressive.
After this sublime and ridiculous detour we come to Dumas, who suddenly
looks a bit tame; only shocking if you've never looked closely at Degas,
and even sharing the sentimental figuration of the exhibition's great
disappointment, Peter Doig.
It is Tuymans who looks like a giant among painters. His colossal still
life painted in response to a request for images of September 11 may be
great, or awful or even banal - I don't know yet. But it's the only
work of art I've seen whose response to recent history may survive.