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    wacky like a fox
by Paul Hasegawa-Overacker
The book
Ron Mueck
Katia Liebmann
Gotham City
Peter Davies
The Hot One Hundred

The New Neurotic Realism, essay by Dick Price, Saatchi Gallery, London, 1998, 230 reproductions, unpaginated, $40.

The Saatchi Gallery has published a new coffee-table book called The New Neurotic Realism. It features glossy full-color pictures of work by 34 London artists, plus a five-page introductory essay by Richard Price. According to him, this collection is the next wave in British contemporary art. Odds are he's right.

Aside from the swift essay and a set of brief bios in the back, what we have here is a big album of pictures of art, without clutter, or for that matter, information. I don't even think it was an exhibition.

What about the name, the New Neurotic Realists? Is that going to be like the YBAs, the Young British Artists? Do the artists in this volume refer to themselves as the New Neurotics (NuNew)? The Young British Neurotics (YBN)? And what's next, Real British Obsessive-Compulsive Anal Retentives (RBOCAR)? Does the new Wild Bunch even identify with each other?

For some market research, I called up the painter Cecily Brown, who now lives in New York and recently had a sold-out show at Deitch Projects. Brown's work gets the central spread of the book and two more pages occupying major real estate here. Her painting Puce Moment, an aggressive explosion of sex organs connected to human bodies, is like a de Kooning that's not afraid to make its obsession with sex lividly pornographic.

When I asked her about her connection to the other artists she said she didn't know them personally, didn't subscribe to the New Neurotic Realism moniker but was not averse to being showcased in a splashy picture book.

I can't blame her. You gotta admit that the Saatchi Organization is wacky like a fox. The British art market is thriving for one reason, and that is because this saavy advertising guy happens to have caught the art bug. Here's my guess at the recipe, in case anyone cares: 1) massive amounts of capital, 2) clever manipulation of the media taste for outrage, 3) packaging nationalism as a brand name (e.g., Young British Artists), 4) a moribund but aristocratic economy that funnels talent into anachronistic endeavors, that is, art-making (like the Cal Arts postmodernism that swept the art world of the '80s, this thing is art-school run -- more than half emanate from the Royal Academy or Slade), and 5) an esthetic of decadence unique to a fading empire that also happens to suit the taste of an enervated avant-garde. Did I leave anything out?

Okay, okay, enough protectionism. They're good artists and we're stuck with them. The New Neurotic Realism is useful because it teems with stuff that's cool and smart. Art that most of us here in New York haven't seen before.

The best work in this group reflects the black comedy that is life today in the overdetermined, hyperanalyzed media bubble. My subjective top five for the New Neurotic Realists are:

  1. Peter Davies, The Hot One Hundred, 1997. One of the painters in Saatchi's "Sensation" show at the Royal Academy, Davies makes paintings that combine color abstraction with Top Ten lists. His top five are Bruce Nauman, Sigmar Polke, Mike Kelley, Richard Prince and Andy Warhol. Says it all.
  2. Daniel Coombs, She, 1996. Large paintings of cartoony surrealist figures standing in stripeless Lichtenstein-style interiors. Son of Bacon, friendlier but still creepy.
  3. Katia Liebmann, Gotham City, 1997. Black-and-white photos, no doubt of the artist, posing as Batman. Photography is everywhere, but this is one step beyond.
  4. Ron Mueck, Mask, acrylic, 1997. This five-foot-tall Photorealist sculpture of a scowling face, done in polyester resin, was also in the "Sensation" show. Mueck is Australia's answer to Duane Hanson and Charlie Ray, and the market has already christened him a major talent with the recent auction sale of Big Baby 2 for $68,000.
  5. David Falconer, Vermin Death Stack, 1998. A tottering ten-foot-tall pile of dead mice, made of painted cast resin. Presumably, the thing is cast from life, a thought that's purely repellent.

And the bottom five, just because I can:

  1. Martin Maloney, Rave (after Poussin's Triumph of Pan), 1997. The cover lot looks like fake folk art.
  2. Peter Davies, Text Painting, 1998. Very '80s Sean Landers, should have been used for the cover.
  3. Nicky Hoberman, Honeybun, 1997. Big-headed kids painted too self-consciously. Keene meets Sue Coe.
  4. Dexter Dalwood, Graceland, 1998. More bad naïve painting of interiors. Elvis is NOT in the building.
  5. Karl Maughan, Plume, 1997. Photorealism of a field of flowers. RBOCAR.

PAUL HASEGAWA-OVERACKER is the producer of Art TV Gallery Beat.

In the bookstore:

The New Neurotic Realism
by Dick Price
Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection
by Norman Rosenthal
Young German Artists II: At the Saatchi Gallery
by Greg Hilty