Does Jenny Saville fix it for you?
For once, I'm not offering an opinion, because I can't decide. Is feminist activist and YBA Jenny Saville the real deal or not?
Thursday 29 September 2011 17.20 BST
Jenny Saville – good painter or bad painter? You tell me, because I'm not sure.
I used to be fairly sure she was a mediocre pseudo-expressionist whose rise to fame was down to the support of Charles Saatchi and a loud appeal to feminist cultural theory. In reality, I felt her paintings were too easy and glib in their mottled flesh, and just not serious enough about the challenge of depicting the human body with blobs of pigment on canvas. Lucian Freud's granddaughter she was not.
Saville is still a feminist: for the next couple of days you can see a work by her at the Gagosian Gallery in King's Cross, alongside pieces by a wide range of artists that go on sale in a charity auction this week on behalf of Women for Women International; she also co-organised the event. WfWI supports women in conflict zones around the world, and a gallery of great and good artists including Tracey Emin and Chuck Close have joined Saville to offer works to its cause.
So she is an activist, and her politics are real. She is also, by this time, plainly a serious painter, in the sense that she still keeps doing what she does – she also has a solo exhibition in New York at the moment – and succeeds in making it bite, somehow, into the culture. A row over a work by her on the cover of a rock album in 2009 typified the way she makes painting a force on the contemporary scene, able to shock and trouble a world far beyond art galleries. In this, she may not be so unlike Freud after all.
On the other hand, do her paintings possess enough real joy in the art of painting to make them live, in the long term, as art? Is she a powerful painter of visceral subjects or a pastiche of such a painter?
For once, I am not offering an opinion. I'm asking you. Is Saville the real deal or not?