Iconoclasts at the Saatchi Gallery review: This repeatedly fascinating collection of pieces is in search of a unifying theme

Steve Dinneen
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Iconoclasm is an apt subject for an exhibition in 2017, when nary a venerated institution remains unscathed. But if you’re hoping for a coherent argument about its place in the modern artistic canon, you will leave the Saatchi Gallery disappointed.

If, however, you’re happy to simply enjoy the works of 13 vastly different artists without the distraction of an overarching theme, there are some real gems here.

Dale Lewis’s wonderful large-scale paintings of scrapping yobs and East End caffs are a highlight, their dark, almost cartoonish violence belying the influence of large-scale war paintings like Amos Cassioli’s 1176 Battle of Legnano. Lewis’s works are at once fun and menacing; that each one is completed in just a day is astonishing.

The image used in the exhibition promo material shows a woman in her knickers with a series of images sunburnt into her skin. It’s part of a series by Thomas Mailaender, in which he uses a heat-lamp to sear photographic negatives into his models’ – victims’? – skin: a man in Nazi uniform on a shoulder, a horse on someone’s back. The raw, pink flesh makes for a fascinating canvas.

Elsewhere are large-scale sculptures – a twisting structure covered in crow’s feathers; a grotesque, amorphous expanse of what looks like elephant skin – which don’t particularly fit the theme but are worth checking out nonetheless.

Perhaps most on-note are British artist Danny Fox’s excoriating takedowns of contemporary America, with deeply critical paintings with titles like Planned Parenthood Waiting Room, and The Prodigal Son in Misery at the Women’s March; little snapshots, mural-like in their simplicity, of the state of the world’s most powerful nation. If I had to bet which artist inspired the title of the exhibition, this would be it.

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