London Student

Known Unknowns at the Saatchi Gallery

The familiar becomes dramatically defamiliarised in the Saatchi Gallery’s current exhibition, Known Unknowns, featuring contemporary artists from all over the world.

The Saatchi Gallery’s latest exhibition, Known Unknowns, presents a unique collection of contemporary art by established artists from across the world. Painting, sculpture, video installation and mixed media are just a few of the mediums present in this show. Such a broad spectrum of work echoes the ethos that underpins the rise of conceptual art from the 1960s onwards: to focus on the craft of art making and question exactly what art is and does. Artists such as Kirstine Roepstorff and Tamuna Sirbiladze demonstrate this with their work, which vividly captures how the ordinary and habitual can be ‘defamiliarized’ and given a new aesthetic.

Known Unknowns manifests itself to viewers in a very Saatchian way. Visitors are confronted with empty white walls, whilst information cards (apart from the artists’ names) and directions on how to navigate the exhibition are omitted. An inherent minimalism and love for geometry are the main, again Saatchian, characteristics when it comes to curatorial decisions and presentation. Almost everything is left to one’s own perception and understanding. Thus the exhibition title Known Unknowns definitely typifies the use of space and presentation of art work.

And this characteristic unsettling of the expected and familiar is extended to the themes of the exhibition. Whilst easily recognizable and long explored, these themes – such as the representation of the human body in the internet age and the issue of voyeurism – are presented in a fresh light. Tamuna Sirbiladze’s paintings are a prime example of this defamiliarization of the familiar. With their striking child-like quality, Sirbiladze’s expressionistic paintings are all the more disturbing. Her contrasting palette of pastels and bolder primary colours renders her use of a blood-like red – seen in such works as La Femme Infidele and Map 4 – Kotzen – stand out and leaves the viewer feeling uncomfortable.

Artists like Sirbiladze undoubtedly fall under Saatchi’s conception of art: that it should break the rules, explore the unexplored and make known the supposedly unknown. That is not to say that in Known Unknowns drastically new ideas and radical experimentation are to be found; many of the works will remind the viewer of the abstractionism, cubism and minimalism of bygone eras. However, the genius of each artist (and the exhibition as a whole) is in their individualized approach to old practices, as filtered through their perception of today. This message may not be overt, but rather hidden in what is on the canvas, on the floor, in the very practice of art making and the materials used.

One artist whose work encapsulates this and is a particular highlight of the exhibition is Kirstine Roepstorff. Her eye-catching piece, Hidden Truth (see feature image above), draws together photography, painting and collage to reveal a less than aesthetically pleasing message. At first glance this collage of a mountainous and wooded landscape dazzles the eye with wallpaper, glitter, pearls and sequins; but a closer look reveals more sinister, albeit half-hidden, details. Skyscrapers pierce the Alp-like peaks and a jewellery-fused insect bursts star-like at the centre of the work. Interpretation will differ for each viewer of the exhibition, but the dangers of capitalistic excess are all too known in Roepstorff’s unknown dystopia.

Known Unknowns is free and will be showing at the Saatchi Gallery until the 24th June.