New Sensations 2013 is an exhibition held by Channel 4, the Saatchi Gallery and Absolut Vodka to showcase what the booklet describes as the “most talented and imaginative artists graduating in the UK”. The title likely refers to the Saatchi-organised “Sensation” exhibition of Young British Artists in 1997, featuring Hirst’s shark, Emin’s bed, and Marcus Harvey’s portrait of Myra Hindley. Entering the space, I noticed the cement walls reminiscent of the warehouses the Young British Artists kicked off in. The question on my mind is: does the art of these twenty young hopefuls live up to the comparison?

SM New Sensations Antonio MarguetMy question is quickly answered. In the first room, Rosie Kennedy’s untitled brick slowly descends from the ceiling to stop above a plastic shrub, which looks like it’s been left there by health & safety dragons to stop people walking beneath. Turning to my right, I see Kate Howard’s “Pokey Nookey Ho(les), in which three phallic bin-bags inflate within giant rings. It’s hardly the Chapman brothers’ sex-dolls or Ofili’s porno-Mary: the effect is sanitized, a one-liner without the power to shock. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, considering the event’s corporate sponsorship.

My companion makes a beeline to Absolut’s free bar, which is attracting by far the biggest crowds. We’re both serious about drink, but compared to him I’m a rank amateur, and soon the artworks start to get a boozy smear to them. I look over at Virgile Ittah’s “Regarding the pain of the other”, a sculpture of a woman in a darkened room whose legs have rotted away. It is being straddled by a woman taking selfies. “It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” says a man, for no discernible reason whatsoever. My misanthropy meter reading dangerously high, I press on.

…looped clips such as thrusting pelvises from an 80s workout video…

SM New Sensations Philippa KugliowskiJack Stanton’s video installation “The Personality Agreement” proves to be a crowd-pleaser with its ability to edit looped clips such as thrusting pelvises from an 80s workout video to dance music, thus appealing to the lizard brain in us with its loud noises and flashing colours. If “The Personality Agreement” is MTV seen through a hangover, Philippa Kuligowski’s highly original video installation (pictured) is the National Gallery on mushrooms: its dodgy special effects somehow combine with images of classical art and some well-composed interior shots to offer moments of real beauty.

So much for my favourite artwork – my companion prefers Ilona Kiss’s arctic vignettes, which to me have the blotchy look of something painted from photographs. We both admire Sean Boylan’s oil paintings, such as the dreamlike “There before long”, featuring bodies which are faded in places but break out here and there in fine detail. Neither of us dwell much on the more Saatchi-esque offerings, such as Rosie O’Grady’s “Camellac” video featuring a camel in a museum (less funny than Mark Wallinger walking around a gallery in a bear suit in his Turner Prize-winning “Sleeper”).

…the more it titillates him…

Thoughts to end on, then. Firstly, art and vodka don’t mix. Secondly, when punk becomes the establishment, what happens next? None of the artists here seemed sure. The size of the cheques Saatchi writes doesn’t speak to me of a man who loves something, but who wants to tame it. The more art insults him, the more it titillates him: he once even endorsed a satirical portrait of himself. Hirst’s seminal “A Thousand Years” with its rotting head covered in flies now seems to describe the art world’s relation to big business: I hope its renewal won’t take so long.   

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