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Last Updated: Monday, 22 March, 2004, 17:26 GMT
Review: Saatchi's New Blood
by Emma Saunders
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Hi Paul I'm Scared...2003

The New Blood exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London's County Hall marks the first anniversary of the gallery's opening.

Charles Saatchi has acquired a variety of works by new artists and pieces by more established figures over the past 18 months.

As you might expect, it is the work of the unknown young artists that immediately grab attention.

On entering the exhibition, visitors are immediately offered an escape route in the guise of Matt Calderwood's Rope hanging from the ceiling - it looks sturdy but is in fact made out of toilet paper.

On the right is Conrad Shawcross' The Nervous System, a huge unwieldy contraption made out of wood, with cogs that churn out strands of colourful wool as it creaks on its never-ending treadmill.

Portrait of Rachel Whitear
Rachel Whitear's parents have condemned the portrait

The endless mechanical movements conjure up images of the industrial revolution, when long hours of hard labour were standard.

B-movie

Brian Griffiths's Boneshaker sculpture also harks back to another age - he has constructed an attractive and well-crafted gypsy caravan out of antique tables and wooden ornaments.

Francis Upritchard's Save Yourself is inspired by history too but has a lighthearted slant. Her installation features a mummy lying on the ground groaning surrounded by kitsch objects - faintly amusing in a B-movie kind of way.

Moving through the exhibition, paintings and smaller sculptures are dotted along County Hall's corridors - Turner prize winner Grayson Perry's classical-style urns etched with images of childhood, death and sex are fascinating in their detail and beautifully made.

County Hall used to house the London City Council
County Hall has been a riverside landmark for 80 years

It is in these corridors that the more established artists stand out - Marlene Dumas's expressionist-style paintings, often featuring naked women, have the ability to provoke and question the scenes depicted long after you have moved on.

Photographer Matt Collishaw's work is equally impressive - his huge mosaics, often of shocking images such as a real-life lynching, are given a modern edge in stark black and white and look more like the pixallation of graphics on a computer.

Controversy

But new artist Stella Vine, who was a stripper at a London club until recently, is more than a match for her well-known contemporaries.

Her two paintings of Princess Diana and late heroin addict Rachel Whitear have caused controversy over their content.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of displaying such work, the images are startlingly beautiful in an almost cartoonish way.

The Princess Diana portrait shows her with blood dripping from her lips and is accompanied by a childlike handwritten plea for help - she is portrayed as a frightened little girl who might just have raided her mother's make-up box.

The Rachel Whitear image also shows blood dripping from her lips, giving it a sinister edge - she looks disconcertingly cheerful otherwise.

David Falconer's Vermin Death Star is somewhat disturbing - a repellent pile of rats twisted together to form a huge meteor.

But it has a predictable feel about it and fails to have the impact of the early work of Emin, Hirst and company. Perhaps art-lovers' senses have been dulled in the few years since the Brit art scene exploded.

But the exhibition is worth seeing for its variety alone - paintings, sculptures and installations veer from the quiet and restrained to the loud and outrageous.

And while some of it is superficial and instantly forgettable, there are a few gems that could put a new generation of YBAs on the map.

New Blood opens on Wednesday.




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