Imagine the Louvre without the Mona Lisa, the British Museum without the Elgin Marbles, the Tate Gallery without the Rothkos. Now imagine the Saatchi Gallery without Richard Wilson’s reflective oil installation “20:50” in the lower floor. It has happened; the installation, which has been with the Saatchi in its different locations since 1987, has gone, first on a world tour and then to a permanent new home at David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) outside Hobart in Tasmania.
I guess time moves on, but somehow the Saatchi does not seem the same without the oily smell on the lower floor and the shiny black surface creating a mirror to the upper part of the gallery. A piece of magic has gone. In terms of a more commercial approach to art, having one work in a large space visited by relatively few people after 30 years perhaps does not make sense. In its place, Saatchi has created a new gallery space, SALON, in the White Cube style of design, for partnership exhibitions with other international galleries. It is a pity that something of the past could not have been hinted at by having a darker, perhaps even black floor, rather than the ubiquitous (and boring) grey.
The inaugural exhibition in the new SALON goes back in time to the 1950’s and 60’s with the work of Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Maekawa (born in 1936), organised by Lévy Gorvy and running in parallel with two exhibitions of the artist Kazuo Shiraga at Lévy Gorvy’s gallery in London and at the Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Antwerp, the three exhibitions reinforcing the importance of the Japanese group Gutai Pinacotheca founded in 1954 and led by Jiro Yoshihara, of which Maekawa and Shiraga were both members until it disbanded after Yoshihara’s death in 1972.
The term ‘Gutai’ translates as ‘concrete’ or ‘embodiment’ and is linked to an interest in materials and process in creating art. Maekawa’s work explores three dimensionality in his painting, using pieces of burlap (the rough woven cloth used to make jute rice bags). In several paintings the burlap was sewn, folded and fixed onto the canvas after which enamel paint was poured over the structure to create an image where the poured paint became the background, like water flowing in a river, and the texture of the rough burlap became lines projecting out from the canvas.
His “Mountain with Lines” from 1963 could be many things. The viewer is not sure whether it is a view looking across the landscape, with lines that are too round for a mountain and blue water running through it, or a view from above, like a contour map, with the blue water being rivers. The form could apply to many natural objects, perhaps even a pumpkin, so often used graphically by the better-known Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (born in 1929).