This time last year the Saatchi Gallery presented us with its Pangea exhibition of contemporary art from Africa and Latin America. The show seemed to be very popular, however, while much was written about it, there was one stand out work that eclipsed the rest of the art on display: Rafael Comezbarros’s ant installation. This year, Saatchi has again staged a show focused on the same part of the world but does it really surpass last year’s offering?
Like 2014, there is a large gallery on the ground floor that features one huge work. This space, which was overrun by the ants last year has now been recycled into the home of a giant blue structure made up entirely of bright blue plastic bags that have been stuck together by Jean-Francois Bocle, an artist from Martinique. The sea of crisp, clean, unused bags against the white walls seems to attract a lot of attention. For some reason, they are somewhat mesmerising, though I’m not sure anyone would be able to tell you why. Again, like last year, amid reviews and photo-articles, this is the one work that seems to be getting any attention.
The rest of the work on display seems to all blur into one after a while. The show, as is standard Saatchi fashion, is huge, and there is a lot to take in. There are some questionable paintings on display that contain disturbing imagery concerning Barbie-style dolls and tortoises as well as large abstract multi-coloured canvases.
Standout works for me include what might be termed ‘sculptures’ that are constructed of hanging trees, complete with roots. They may literally be likened to someone being uprooted from a culture and placed in a new context where they may not be fully assimilated yet – an artwork taken from a foreign land then replanted into the Saatchi gallery. I was also impressed by a set of canvases, which had been adorned with straw hats by Colombian artist Alexandre de Cunha, however this may be because I was wearing a very similar hat on the day I visited the exhibition and the likeness between the artwork and my outfit amused me greatly.
On the top floor of the Saatchi gallery, a small room has been filled with a piece of last year’s Pangea exhibition. Here we are again confronted with Comezbarro’s ants. It is as though the curators at Saatchi wanted to leave us a remnant of last year’s success, just in case we weren’t impressed with this years offering.
While I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled by the 2015 version of Pangea, there are some moments among the exhibition that are worthy of appreciation. The main problem that the Saatchi gallery has failed to learn from last year concerns the difficult of displaying work from such a large geographical space under one roof and trying to draw a link. Nevertheless, you may wish to take a visit, even if it is to see the ants again.
Pangea II is on display at Saatchi Gallery until 6 September