Size Really Does Matter for Saatchi & Co ; Those Young British Artists Are Back, with Three New Exhibitions. This Time Though, They're Bigger and More Mature; Ant Noises Saatchi Gallery, London out There White Cube2, London
It has been a good week for that ageing pack of artists known as the YBAs. Putting the lie to rumours of their imminent demise, the no-longer-quite-so-Young British Artists have staged a multiple comeback. At the Saatchi Gallery, "Ant Noises" - an anagram, if you hadn't noticed, of sensation - brings together variably new works by Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Ron Mueck and Jenny Saville. Moving trendily eastward, two leading YBA dealerships have opened offshoots in Hoxton. Jay Jopling's White Cube has spawned White Cube2 in a converted factory. The gallery's first show, "Out There", naturally includes Hirst, together with a clutch of those YBAs left out of "Ant Noises": Gary Hume, Gavin Turk, the Chapman boys et al. Sadie Coles, meanwhile, has opened Hoxton HQ. Her debut show also features Sarah Lucas - it's a small world, after all - alongside fillies from her private stable, like Angus Fairhurst.
Depending on your point of view, your reaction to all this may not be one of undiluted joy. The point of the Young British Artists was that they were all three of those things. Now that the first seems increasingly implausible, the point is lost. "Young" was a synonym for edgy, subversive, in-your-face - qualities that were always under threat from their own success, and appeared to meet their Establishment Waterloo at the Royal Academy. "Sensation" turned the YBAs into MABAs: "middle aged" is a synonym for well, for what, exactly?
The answer may be, maturity. The first thing that strikes you as you walk into the Saatchi is an unexpected air of poise. This is most apparent in Sarah Lucas' new work. Before, cigarettes were props in Lucas' tediously egocentric drama of aren't-I-a-bad-girl. Now they are an art material, woven and quilted and tessellated into a medium via which Lucas universalises her own experience. Her hand- rolled Malboros tell an allusive story of sex and death, sucking and drudgery. You can see the same kind of transformation in Jenny Saville's paintings. Where Saville's earlier work set out to shock, her new pictures are more introspective. Their subjects are still provocative - elephantine women, girls with lips like labia - but they are less relevant to Saville's new agenda, which is mark- making, working with paint, experimenting with abstract form.
Saville's pictures do raise another curiosity of mature YBA work, though, and that is its size. One particularly bitter school of thought holds that Charles Saatchi is so powerful a patron that he has actually shaped the kind of art that artists who aspire to catch his eye produce. Saatchi, note adherents of this school, is an ad man, with an ad man's taste for billboards; his gallery is a series of vast white rooms; ergo, Saatchi art is big art, for which read splashy, vulgar and self-promoting. …