Giving Female Artists the Privilege: Review of Champagne Life

We review the Saatchi Gallery's current exhibition, 'Champagne Life', a collection of all-female artists.

by Abby Parsons

I first heard of the Saatchi Gallery’s current exhibition when a friend posted a picture of herself at the gallery on Facebook, posing next to a giant sphere.

It looked so very fashion, and I wanted to go see it for myself. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that most of the people at the exhibition were doing the same thing: striking a kneeling-down pose while their friend took repeated snaps with a DLR.

Although the title ‘Champagne Life’ seems to set a different agenda, the exhibition is a collection of work by all-female artists. It is shocking to find out how unevenly represented women are in exhibitions around world (the Guardian gives the example that, in 2012, only 27.5% of the artists shown at the Frieze Art Fair were female) and we surely can’t complain that the gallery chose to make female artists its focus of the exhibition marking its 30th birthday. But still, you can’t escape the feeling that this is a rather broad way to categorise art. Without any further purpose or particular argument, the collection felt disjointed and simply random. Which of course it would be. Why would gathering together pieces of work from artists who have nothing in common but their gender lend itself to any kind of narrative? It’s not something we would expect from a collection of male artists’ work.


I thought the collection might offer some kind of rebuff to the undue privilege that is still being given to male artists. I thought it might celebrate female art, give back one of the many opportunities that have been taken away from women (though the idea of doing this in one fell swoop of an exhibition is arguably flawed. It says, here we’re giving you the space now, aren’t you pleased? Like some kind of patronising boyfriend.)

However the real issue of privilege that I found myself confronted with at the gallery was that of the blatant wealth that comes with Sloane Square (not helped by the fact I had walked there from Victoria, stumbling through cobbled mews to get to the gallery, and that we visited on a Sunday afternoon, with the wannabe-MIC tourists out in force). As anyone who has visited the Saatchi Gallery before knows, the affluence of the place is actually distracting. Evidently interpretation cards are too proletarian, because the Saatchi Gallery refuses to adorn its wide white walls with such things, so that all you are left with is a giant sphere, and a giant reel of thread. Here, this is art.

Watching the punters pose with these oversized objects, it felt more like we were at Cadbury’s World than at a gallery. In a way, there is something brilliant about that – everyone was properly enjoying the art, getting involved, even touching the tactile pieces (I’m not sure that was technically allowed, but, hey, good for them). I’m certainly not doing any of the pieces down – they all offered something unique. But the way they were presented as a collection did nothing to add to the experience – in fact it almost lessened their impact, by dividing them from their individual contexts so that they floated alone, labelled as female and nothing else.

Abby Parsons | @abbyparsons30