London – Jenny Saville: “Oxyrhynchus” at Gagosian Gallery, through July 26th 2014

July 26th, 2014

Jenny Savile, Untitled (2014)
Jenny Savile, Untitled (2014), all images courtesy Gagosian London

On display at Gagosian Gallery in London is a series of monumental oil paintings by Jenny Saville, focusing on the materiality of the human body. The works are large in scale and extremely detailed, and some of the works have taken up to 7 years to complete. The exhibition will be on view through July 26th at Gagosian London.

Jenny Saville, Odalisque (2012-14)
Jenny Saville, Odalisque (2012-14)

Saville’s most recent works were inspired by the ancient Egyptian trash dump at Oxyrhynchus, which was one of the most important archeological sites ever to be discovered. The discarded materials were preserved by the dry climate of the area, and included Euclid’s Elements, as well as the poems of Sappho, written on papyrus.  This thick layering of historical and philosophical materials is reflected here, as Saville’s paintings employ rich, overlaid shadows and reflections, overlapping limbs of nude figures, and charcoal silhouettes drawn on top of oil paint. Saville calls these works ‘studies,’ alluding to the “timeless human process of sketching” while holding to the idea that the once discarded material may one day be an invaluable symbol of the past.

Jenny Saville, Intertwine (2011-14)
Jenny Saville, Intertwine (2011-14)

Saville’s human figures appear to merge together, two often becoming one, and the settings have been loosely adapted from photographs, with backgrounds suggesting an inspiration from Renaissance paintings. Other apparent inspirations include De Kooning’s fluid female figures; Picasso’s combined couples; Japanese Shunga prints; and Titian’s Nymph and Shepherd (1570-75), in which the subjects are placed in a dramatic background.

Jenny Savile, Oxyrhynchus (Installation View)
Jenny Savile, Oxyrhynchus (Installation View)

The result of Saville’s work is a series of paintings that foreground her own creative process, and elevate that itself to the state of art object proper.  For Saville, the act of sketching becomes infinitely as important as a final work when laid along the infinitely vast timeline of human history.

Jenny Savile, Oxyrhynchus (Installation View)
Jenny Savile, Oxyrhynchus (Installation View)

Saville’s work has been exhibited at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2005); Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997); Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (1998), Brooklyn Museum of Art (1999); Kunsthalle Emden, Germany (2002); the 50th Venice Biennale; and Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Torino (2011); as well as many other notable institutions. In October 2014, “Egon Schiele/Jenny Saville” will open at Kunsthaus Zürich.

Oxyrhynchus will remain on view at Gagosian London through July 26, 2014.

Jenny Saville, In the realm of the Mothers III (2014)
Jenny Saville, In the realm of the Mothers III (2014)

Jenny Saville, In the realm of the Mothers I (2012-2014)
Jenny Saville, In the realm of the Mothers I (2012-2014)

—E. Baker

Related Links:
Exhibition Page [Gagosian Gallery]
“Jenny Saville: ‘I like the down and dirty side of things’” [Telegraph]
“Shift to the Sensual: Jenny Saville’s Gagosian Exhibition” [Art Info]
“Jenny Saville: Oxyrhynchus, Gagosian” [Evening Standard]