Review: Ashley Bickerton, Newport Street Gallery ‘Dated’

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So, Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery has opened its fourth show – and it’s a fourth show in a row for white male artists for, following John Hoyland, Jeff Koons and Gavin Turk, we now have Ashley Bickerton.

Clearly, diversity isn’t something Hirst looks for in his own art collection (pretty much all of the artworks in these shows are drawn from Hirst’s own art collection, known as the Murdeme collection, which comprises over 3,000 works of art, and is, in itself, worth more money than you and I will ever know in our lifetimes).

And this survey of Bickerton’s work reveals more about Hirst’s personal taste, for it’s more of the bold, brash, in-yer-face, aggressive old-school masculinity pieces that we’ve seen from Hirst and the previous shows. These are artworks that desperately want to ruffle feathers, that crave your disapproval like needy, petulant teenagers, only to actually leave you a little bored, a little numb, and craving depth and nuance.

So, it comes as no surprise that Ashley Bickerton (b. 1959) was one of the artists who made his name in the abrasive 1980s New York art scene, along with the likes of Richard Prince and, of course, Jeff Koons. But Ashley left New York in the 1990s, relocating to Bali where he still lives and works.

Only this move from urban to coastal environments didn’t transform Ashley’s work (he’s no Gauguin, people, no matter how much you sense some want to draw that parallel) for what this results in is a collection of yet more glib, shallow work only with a few sharks, fishnets and dinghies thrown in for good measure. Because, you know, why not? Why be subtle when you can create giant sharks and huge sea snakes to let the crowds Insta to death?

There is an interesting conflation, I suppose, of the sea creatures and island-inspired pieces that Ashley uses in his works – the sharks, the Hydras, the luridly coloured atolls – and Hirst’s latest work ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,’ which has recently opened in Venice, which creates a fantasy of treasure from an ancient shipwreck reclaimed from the deep. A source of inspiration, perhaps? But it doesn’t take long to be bored by them. (And that doesn’t exactly bode well for my trip to Venice next week).

But, look, what I’m getting at here is this: if you’re relying on sensation and offense to provoke your audience, you’re about thirty years out-of-date. None of this is controversial or shocking. It’s dated. There’s nothing in these pieces that examines anything about the human condition. You feel no emotion looking at them. And then when you come across the sculptures of nubile young Balinese girls with slim waists and pert breasts… Oh, you just eye-roll.

It’s just embarrassing. These are such juvenile depictions of women. The male gaze is everywhere. And then as these young women offer up hammerhead sharks to you with their big, wide eyes… Oh, none of this is subtle. I’m so bored of the male gaze and its need for sexually available young women. Get over yourself.

As a woman and as someone who craves emotional connection from art, I found this show tiresome and dull. The works seem dated, even the new work that occupies the last room. *Sigh*. I mean, like all shows at the Newport Street Gallery, admission is free so you won’t have lost anything if you visit – except for, perhaps, your precious time, respect for Hirst and his acolytes, and a bit more of your will to live.

Newport Street Gallery, London, to August 27, 2017

Admission free.

All images by Prudence Cumming Associates.

For more photos from inside the exhibition, see the album on my Facebook page.

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