Charles Saatchi and his gallery have decided, it seems, that painting is where it is at. Painting - you remember it, surely? One artist, with a paintbrush and a selection of colours in tubes or on a palette, acrylic, oil or, who knows, even watercolour, putting it on a canvas until he reaches the edges and it looks like something. Or not. Until recently, an artist has been someone with the phone number of a good technical workshop and the ability to persuade investors to hand over a down payment. From now on, you may recognise an artist by the burnt sienna on his cuffs.
Anyway, that is what we are to infer from the title of the new exhibition at his gallery, The Triumph of Painting: Part One, a title as screamingly pompous as a 1974 album by Yes. Painting is back! Painting is exciting! Painting is happening again! And the proof is that Charles Saatchi is buying it, and - we may conclude - is propelling some new artists into the spotlight, just as he did years ago with Damien Hirst, Ron Mueck and what's-her-face off the telly. And to launch the whole thing, there's a party so enormous, even I've been invited.
Actually, I'm not going - there's quite a smart party the same night. And though the exhibition contains some very good painters, the whole enterprise is so tiresome in its tone that it may take some effort to shove past Mr Saatchi's army of bright-nosed acolytes in their spotty tabards accosting anyone walking north of Waterloo Station and visit the exhibition at all.
It reminds me terribly of those articles in Sunday newspapers written entirely for the amusement of Private Eye. Is poetry the new rock and roll? Is Rowetta X Factor the new Kiri Te Kanawa? Is cake- icing the new comedy? Is conceptual art the new sampler-making? Is embroidery the new pornography? Is Lego the new cocaine? Is opera the new football? Is painting the new Art? One could go on all day - it isn't very hard. But the truth is that all these activities, and any one can think of, carry on energetically whether the light of metropolitan fashion happens to be falling on them or not. This is particularly the case of painting. Anyone who seriously follows art will know that not only has painting never gone away, but over the last 20 years, a lot of seriously impressive work has gained a lot of popular support.
Even limiting yourself to this country, the names of Lucian Freud, Howard Hodgkin, Bridget Riley, Patrick Caulfield, Patrick Heron, Terry Frost and dozens of others leap to mind, all doing splendid, individual work. They are grand, established names, but among younger artists Gary Hume, …