British Art Show 7, Hayward Gallery, South Bank.
British Art Now Part 2, Saatchi Gallery, Kings Road Chelsea.
Maybe we were wrong to try and fit the Hayward in at the end of a busy day of exhibition viewing, but on the other hand, maybe it was just a difficult show to follow. In order to appreciate contemporary art, I either need to enjoy the aesthetics of the work or value the skill of the making, or I need to be guided through the makers ideas. There was some interesting work in the show, but overall, I felt mystified.
Our visit to the Saatchi Gallery the next day was a wholly different experience. They seem to have a strong commitment to making the work accessible to the general viewer. Take for example, the guide. Sure, you have to pay for it. But at £1.50 it is within most people's reach. And once you have bought it, you have a black and white image of every piece in the show, with 150 words of description and explanation, often including quotes from the artist about their intention for the work.
So the viewer has the possibility to give the piece some good attention, make his/her own interpretation, and then see how it matches the artist or curator's comments. Of course, it can also be used as a shortcut to forming one's own impression, but that is the risk, and who can say that it is not a valid way to view the work.
Of course, the Saatchi gallery also has the advantage of space, which cannot be underestimated. Even in such a big show, nothing was crowded together. Each piece is a new experience and that helps the viewer make sense of the whole.
I suppose the bottom line is that if I have no way of coming to an understanding of the work, it makes me feel stupid. Shows that give me the tools to appreciate the work, make me feel I'm entering into a partnership between artist, curator and viewer. British Art Now did that very successfully.
My highlights from the Saatchi show: Des Hughes, Endless Endless - ragged effigy; Ximena Garrido-Lecca, The Followers - wall of shrines; Caragh Thuring, General Scenes of Unloading - fragmentary painting on bare linen.