Newspeak: British Art Now

The Hermitage continues its “20/21” contemporary art programme with “Newspeak: British Art Now”, the museum’s second collaboration with London’s Saatchi Gallery after “USA Today” in 2007, which kicked off the 20/21 project. Since then the Hermitage has shown paintings by US artist Chuck Close, textiles by Russian artist Timur Novikov, photography by Russian artist Boris Smelov, and gothic sculpture by Belgian artist Wim Delvoye.

“Newspeak” at the Hermitage will include the work of around 20 British artists—including Spartacus Chetwynd, Mustafa Hulusi, Goshka Macuga, Toby Ziegler, Pablo Bronstein and littlewhitehead—on show in the one of the museum’s largest rooms, the Nikolaevsky Hall in the Winter Palace. The exhibition will have an expanded UK showing at the Saatchi Gallery in June 2010.

“After the success of ‘USA Today’, we were discussing possibilities of future joint projects with the Saatchi Gallery,” Dimitri Ozerkov, head of the 2021 project and curator of “Newspeak”, told The Art Newspaper. “We agreed to make a British show in partnership, but agreed that the final selection and conception would be carried out by a Hermitage curator, and the premiere is in St Petersburg.”

Ozerkov is an enthusiastic follower of Saatchi, and is convinced of the superiority of this collection. “Some 80% (if not more) of the world’s contemporary art is total rubbish, and big institutions such as museums know this, but are not allowed to say it publicly. One feels this when researching material for a show,” he told us.

Saatchi proposed the title “Newspeak”, which refers to the fictional language spoken in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Ozerkov made the initial selection of works from Saatchi’s website, and then visited the works in storage in London, where most of the works for the exhibition were chosen. He also visited artist studios and galleries to finalise a number of acquisitions and commissions for the show, including a new work by Pablo Bronstein, Relocation of Temple Bar, 2009.

“The Hermitage will present only the best part of the collection,” Ozerkov told us. “Some of the works I didn’t find interesting for a Russian audience—such as those referring to everyday realities that a Russian visitor would not understand. Some of the works won’t work well in the context of an old traditional museum. But there are still a couple of risky decisions and I’m curious about the reaction of visitors.” He cites Barry Reigate’s work, in which “cartoon characters parade, penises in their hands, to be installed at the Hermitage’s heart”.

The exhibition will also include the work of one of the artists featured in the forthcoming reality TV show, currently titled “Saatchi Art Stars”. The BBC programme—due to air from late November for four weeks—will feature six artists, to be judged by a panel comprising artist Tracey Emin, broadcaster and critic Matthew Collings, collecter Frank Cohen and Barbican Art Gallery head Kate Bush.

This article was published in The Art Newspaper, October 2009, p80. To see it in context, click the PDF link below.

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