USA Today won't be gone tomorrow
Ana Finel Honigman, The Guardian
Saatchi's Royal Academy exhibition reveals the US artscene to succeed where its government fails: it is rich not only in talent but also in the desire to use it seriously.
Contrary to the "alienated artist" image cultivated by misanthropic teens, artworlds are usually small, tight-knit communities populated by people who drink together and feed off each other's insights and dramas. The forty artists featured in Charles Saatchi's USA Today show are not exactly all pals, but there are still enough opportunities to trace Venn diagrams between them all in a way that seems to make for a genuinely accurate overview of America's current art scene, with most of the key players present.
In fact, the opening of USA Today was very much like a champagne-soaked family reunion, the work demonstrating that this particular family has a sterling pedigree and stellar prospects. The show itself is testimony that America's contemporary art scene is now functioning as a genuine meritocracy, where merely illustrating fashionable theories and politics, or simply producing flashy, fluffy, decorative surfaces is no longer sufficient - you need both talent and intellect to gain admittance to its ranks.
The majority of artists on display rightfully deserve their hot-shot star status, and the individual works are a good sampling of what these artists can do. A number of local critics have dismissed USA Today for not overtly grappling with present day politics but most of the work on view does provide challenging commentary on pressing issues of race, consumerism, glitz and faith that clog the American imagination.
The decadence of privileged youth is a theme running throughout the show. So too is satirical criticism of America's adolescent obsessions with flash and speed. Golden kids and bad seeds are everywhere. Dan Colen and Dash Snow's installations mix frat-boy filth with insightful intelligence, transforming puke into poetry, while Gerald Davis turns trauma into treasure in his series of large-scale paintings depicting the scalding shame, awkward good intentions, raw vulnerability and almost constant anxiety of early adolescence in America during the Cold War era. Similarly, Kristen Baker's big, bombastic, acrylic on mylar paintings of the Grand Prix speak out as mocking America's flash and crash culture, but, like almost all the art on display, their sensually satisfying surfaces remain as arresting as the ideas - or ideals - they convey.
In counterpoint to the blundering and posturing behaviour of America's government, USA Today's art succeeds at being beautiful, powerful and unfailingly cerebral.