Nick Hackworth

Landscape: Part One, Saatchi Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Despite its title, this exhibition has practically nothing to do with artistic engagements with the landscape. Of the nine artists included in this first part (more are promised in part two), only the two photographers have produced work that truly focuses on landscapes and human relationships with them.

The seven painters, by contrast, evidently couldn’t care less about landscapes, urban or rural. Although there are some among their works, they are culled from the imagination and, more frequently and tellingly, from the pages of art history. What they really seem interested in is the wilfully boring parodying and pastiche of past styles and genres, an impoverished “postmodern” tactic that passes for a comment on the oppressive weight of art history.

The photographers also produce the most engaging work. Hannah Starkey exhibits two large images that feature teenage girls set in the urban environment of Belfast. In Butterfly Catchers, two girls, one with a net and the other with a collecting jar, pick their way across a field of rubble. The background is of flatness articulated by the form of a long, low-rise, institutional brick building that gives way to two rather pathetically dumpy hills. It is an image whose quietness allows it to sidestep charges of being a laboured visual metaphor for the search for beauty in unlikely places.

In the work of Craigie Horsfield, the other photographer and a former Turner Prize nominee, beauty is found in the urban landscape itself. His large-format images taken above Barcelona’s roofline are classic depictions of the urban pastoral. Here, the artificial lights of the city and the regular forms of the built environment stand in for sunlight and the organic forms of the rural landscape.

On the basis of the paintings here, one could be forgiven for thinking that today’s painters have become nothing more than blowflies feeding on the corpse of the past. The artists featured include Glenn Brown, Tracey Emin, Michael Ashcroft, Dexter Dalwood and David Salle; only Brown’s work holds interest, and even then it is more for the issues raised than for the quality of the painting.

Salle, well known in the US, is typical of the rest. He has his art-historical reference — in the case of one piece here, a Gainsborough. He collages images and styles and he paints only surface, using blocks of undifferentiated colour to frustrate pictorial depth. Visually it is no more than bad decoration, and its content is of even less consequence.

Until 30 June. Tel: 020 7336 7365