Royal Academy of Arts

USA Today

06 Oct - 04 Nov 2006

New American Art from The Saatchi Gallery
6 October—4 November 2006

Despite the rise of China and other nations the USA is still the only superpower. It determines the world’s political and economic agenda, both for better and for worse: its policies and judgements, not to mention its cultural influence, are still decisive. ‘The Iron Curtain’ has disappeared to be replaced by ‘The War on Terror’ with horrendous and divisive consequences. What has young America’s reaction been to this moment? In this selection of the work of young American artists, each confronts not only their own fundamental questions, but also global poverty, inequality and population migration, not to mention the gigantic environmental problems that confront the world as a whole. Gay politics, women’s politics, Islamic politics and black politics all have their echo here.

An artist is, of course, only a singular being who has to find his or her personal myth and language, grounded perhaps in politics, or in contemporary sexual mores. Each artist must have a sense of time and place rooted in recent art history as well as the ubiquitous ambience of contemporary popular music, film and the endlessly proliferating forms of new media. Yet it is interesting to find that the old-fashioned worlds of painting and sculpture refuse to go away.

‘Mapping America’ might have been another title for this exhibition. Just as Jasper Johns transformed the American flag into an art icon of particular immediacy, we see these young artists investing the Stars and Stripes with their own agendas, re-reading it and turning it upside down or evoking moments in their country’s history, such as the draft, the baby boom, the space race, the bicentennial, or the wonderful world of flower power. Can values in both art and society be regarded as relative? Certainly the younger artists in America today seem to be asking questions about society to which there are no straight answers. It may be, of course, that there were no straight answers to these questions in the past, but now the questions tend to be more directly put.

As in each generation, every artist of note remains in his or her work an individual. The best of them are highly innovative but also aware of the past and the culture all around them. If today’s world sometimes has cause to despair of America, it still remains a great country in which the arts of all kinds are flourishing. Hope for the future of any culture must lie in its young people’s potential for creativity, as I believe is made manifest USA TODAY.

Some of the images in the exhibition could be disturbing and parental guidance may be required.

© Matthew Brannon
Switching Positions, 2006
Matt black vinyl foil or enamel
Dimensions variable

Tags: Matthew Brannon, C.T. Jasper, Jasper Johns