School of Saatchi: Episode 4 (final)

Goodness! We appear to have come to the final episode of School of Saatchi! It’s time to find out exactly who is accompanying that reclusive advertising chap to St Petersburg for a show in the Hermitage…

Before launching into the recap I think I should say my own personal choice would be Matt. I wasn’t bowled over by his initial piece but then it was an installation so it’s hard to gauge whether, if one had been able to engage with it in the way the artist intended rather than see it on a screen, it would have been more successful. I began to be drawn in watching him worry over that fake rock debacle in Hastings “Am I just a weird amateur builder?” but still thought perhaps he was just pottering along. Then there was last week. I was absolutely amazed by his wine jelly glass orb for Sudeley Castle chapel. It was simple, it was beautiful, it was an intelligent and sensitive response to the task, and it was art.

Who did you want to win? Tell me what you thought in the comments section!

We begin with a montage of Saatchi-approved art with Collings’ “kingmaker” quote echoing over the top.  Saatchi makes artists into rockstars, catapults careers, stratospherically influences – you know the drill.

After a recap of the previous two projects Collings tells the six they must put on a show at the Saatchi gallery. Saatchi is providing the space and absolutely nothing else – not a single advertising postcard or an hor d’oeuvre.

We catch a glimpse of the six hopefuls’ former lives – art handlers, art students, struggling artists, commission artists… – and are told that this will be the “ultimate test”. Ultimate test eh? Better see what they’ve got planned then.

Ben Lowe is jettisoning paint in favour of cardboard. He explains a project which is labour intensive and involves cardboard memory cells covered in paint and wax. It reminds me of bees but much as I do love bees I am concerned that it will suffer somewhat in the execution.

Sam Zealey has decided to buy a Van der Graaf generator. He will be putting wig on it thus, he explains, eliminating the middle man. Surely the fun of a Van der Graaf generator is being the middle man? That aside, it is the first time Sam has delegated the production out. Collings thinks that this might mean instead of getting it slightly wrong as he usually does Sam might be the one to get it right. I often get the feeling Sam is at the tinkering stage rather than the stage where he knows what works and what doesn’t.

Matt Clark has returned to the small rooms motif he began with. He wants to transform a caravan into an imaginary world peopled by invented characters. The main character in the scenario is a caravanning prophet who gives lectures to one person at a time.

Suki Chan wants a column with one side open as a ladder leading to an empty attic space. Suki is very good at minimalism but this is bordering on sterile. What happened to the beautiful, undulating bird migration video she showed at the very first panel?

Eugenie is handmaking a sponge grappling hoop to accompany a rope and a shelf. She talks about people escaping situations and her idea reminds me of a locked room mystery. The grappling hook looks a bit Not Good and Collings thinks there’s an element of the chaotic in her practice which threatens to overwhelm any seriousness.

Saad Qureshi has artist’s block. I am familiar enough with reality telly narratives not to be worried in any way by this. To try to inspire himself he is listening to music while writhing around inside what looks like a duvet. He emerges jubilant, anouncing that fabric is the key.

Sam and Saad have been tasked with designing the invitation to entice the art elite from their ivory towers and into Saatchi’s gallery. I may sound incredibly jaded but I’m sure a mention of free food and drink wouldn’t go amiss. I would also be willing to be that the BBC and Saatchi himself wouldn’t actually let the show fall on its face. Ralph Rugoff – director of the Hayward Gallery – tells them that the invitation design is appalling. He also invokes “design college” as if it were the worst possible epithet.

While trekking to buy a drill Eugenie has seen a log wedged on top of a fence and would like to take it for her art project. Ralph likes it as an attack on the nature of boundaries and Collings thinks she should abandon the grappling hook entirely. He notes that if she can get the fence to work in the gallery “she will be a bit of a genius”.

Saad has recently been to Pakistan and seen shelters being used by manual labourers. He wants to expand on the idea of the structure and would like to create a second piece with leather discs and racial remarks. There are a lot of stories attached and Collings thinks it might end up being too politely PC.

Ben Lowe has taken over and totally reworked the invitation. As an ex graphic designer he thinks he should have perhaps done it from the start. He goes with the pictore of the log on the fence to advertise the show (that implies that within their group they have already decided it’s the piece that best represents their talent and potential). Voice Over Man thinks the invites being late means there is a very real danger the art world might not turn up – don’t worry Voice Over Man!

Matt is going slowly crazy in his caravan and is becoming absorbed by it. He sheepishly confesses that “somewhere deep in my mind is a bunch of weirdos struggling to get out” but later explains that this is not the time to make things easy on yourself. . Voice Over Man thinks this is a good time for a caravans-in-art montage. Collings says he needs to embody sincerity in his caravan if he doesn’t want to seem derivative.

Sam’s Van der Graaf generator has arrived. It looks appropriately scientific and the group have fun giving themselves electric shocks. It’s not all good news though -Voice Over Man announces “Sam hadn’t considered the fact that a huge machine producing mini lightning bolts may have side effects”. The generator’s instructions include health and safety information including the fact that it could be lethal to people with pacemakers. This gives the group a curating headache although Ben is relatively relaxed – “the dangerous, noisy, lethal thing? I’m fine with it”, he shrugs. Suki decides it’s best to ask the gallery.

Eugenie has got permission to remove the section of fence plus log. I must say it looks pretty damn good. I’m wondering what would happen if the log fell off the fence prongs in transit. Voice Over Man has no such qualms and is more concerned about Matt who, while she is “transporting a natural accident from one side of London to the other”  Matt is still holed up in his caravan. He is determined to pour his heart and soul into this project and if that means working 24/7 then so be it.

Rebecca Wilson has come to check out Sam’s death machine. Sam switches it on. Rebecca asks him to switch it off.  She points out that the noise if unfair to all the other artists and that the gallery refuses to exhibit anything which will endanger visitors. There’s a montage of art which has injured people. Sam now has a giant forbidden generator, no money, and a big panic. “I’m finished” he tells Saad before walking out of the gate.

Having had a chance to think Sam returns to Rebecca with a possible solution. He wants to do it as an event where the piece is switched on for a healthy 2 minutes like “a rare blossoming flower”. Sam paces while Charles considers and eventually packs his generator in the car and returns to Essex to wait it out. Rebecca tells him that his solution is acceptable. Sam is quietly ecstatic – I think he’s about to cry.

Hey – I’ve just noticed – we haven’t heard anything about this cardboard beehive business of Ben’s – frankly I’m concerned.

Not much time to worry about that though – the exhibiting is open and lots of people are arriving. They mill about and peer at things. Women in heels climb Suki’s ladder while nosy neighbours peer into Matt’s caravan. Matt’s mum is very proud. After the event the six share a lovely hug on the steps of the gallery. You wouldn’t get that on The Apprentice.

The panel arrive for an after-hours poke about. Their basic pronouncements on each artist are as follows:

Saad is ambitious but the fabric shelter has “overdone it in the wrong way”. Collings tells Saad that the panel have found him delightful but that he may have reached in the wrong direction in this show and ended up playing it safe or holding back.

Ben’s work feels full of potential but not managed to communicate his idea properly. He has also included a painting but this is dismissed as a poor man’s Francis Bacon. Tracy hopes this opportunity has helped his career and he has done brilliantly.

Eugenie has exhibited both the truncated trunk and the grappling hook piece. Collings hates the grappling hook – “it isn’t worth looking at – I feel insulted that I have to look at it”. The fence log is loved by the whole panel. Kate Bush thinks the two pieces represent her habit of veering from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Sam’s is initially good but falls after the first impressions due to a lack of substance. He gets hung up on making his art  work and it ends up as a literal demonstration. The ambition is possibly too big for the piece or it might just be a case of working out how to address his technical problems.

Suki’s white tower is very polished and well executed but, as Tracy puts it, “so what?” There is a lack of spirit and a sterility to the work. Kate Bush observes that the piece didn’t achieve what it wanted to but she will follow Suki’s career with interest.

‘Professor T Elephas and the Regular’s Table’ (Matt’s caravan – gets mixed reviews. Collings can take or leave the narrative while Kate Bush likes the whole piece complete with imaginary cast.

Once Saatchi has had a wander round Voice Over Man announces that the panel are unanimous and there is one standout work of art. Well that’s removed all illusion of tension! It’s the fence. Why are we messing about? Of course it’s the fence! If they had been judged last week it would possibly have been Matt going to St Peterburg but it wasn’t and I do agree, that fence is the best thing there (certainly from a 5 minutes to assess it on telly perspective) and it’s VERY Saatchi – all impact.

To keep up the illusion of a competition the panel say it’s come down to Matt versus Eugenie. Rebecca-as-mouthpiece-for-Charles says that Matt has produced consistently fantastic work while Eugenie is more ambiguous however the prize is awarded based on the most outstanding work and that is Eugenie’s fence.  “Fuckin’ hell” she says.

HOWEVER, it’s not all bad news for Matt – Saatchi has been impressed and asks him to make a new work to go in the Newspeak exhibition once it arrives from Russia in London. Ah yes – it has all been a 240 minute advertisement for a coming exhibition. Well, you know what? I’ve enjoyed it.

All the others seem genuinely to wish Eugenie well and she, in her turn, thanks Saatchi for providing the gallery space, studio space, and Russia – the latter is possibly slightly beyond even his remit. As part of her reward Eugenie has been given use of a fantastic studio space. She is still in art school so has given it to Matt for a year. He seems a little emotional, muttering “I can’t thank Genie enough”. I am embarassingly touched by this.

Finally we see Eugenie going to the Hermitage to check out her work. “I like seeing the piece knowing that it’s come from the north circular motorway near Bow”, she smiles “I’m really pleased”.

There we go! Should Eugenie have won? Will you be going to see the exhibition? and did you enjoy the show?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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