Delphian Gallery are like these cool kids everyone wants to hang out with. Everyone wants to be in their gang, even Saatchi. Evidently, the word "discover" is inseparable from Benjamin Murphy's and Nick JS Thompson's vision and their online and in-real-world activities. They use their Instagram as a platform for early-career artists to gain more extensive exposure and create career development opportunities through open calls, residencies, publications and exhibitions. This review delves into their newest exhibition, The Way of All Our Flesh, organised at Saatchi Gallery. I will focus on its contribution to the development of contemporary art movements and, most importantly, the arrangement of the works and its impact on the audience's perception and participating artists.
Photographs taken by Delphian Gallery
Even though four years have passed since the outbreak of the pandemic, and it seems as if the whole world has long forgotten about it, its effect on contemporary art is enormous. When confined to four walls, our access technology became the only way to communicate with the outside world; however, this isolation also made us turn again towards romantic eras' characteristics. Utopia, mortality, emotions, the suffering of the individual, sexuality, grotesque, and fleeting feelings of our existence started to be the main themes of post-pandemic art.
But it is not only this disease but also brutal massacres taking place in all parts of the world and ecological tragedies that force people to emigrate contributed to the increasingly frequent occurrence of identity crises. This modern world, guided not by reason but madness, makes us think again about ourselves as flesh and blood individuals lost in our minds and emotions.
It is also visible in The Way of All Flesh exhibition text in which founders of the Delphian Gallery used words like odyssey, ode, ephemeral, intimate, viscera, vulnerabilities, nonexistence, minds, hearts, and flesh though this philosophical depth may challenge occasional cultural consumers' understanding.
What's more, the arrangement of works has a specific purpose. Curators departed from the standard display of artworks in this space, presenting some smaller works by thirty-six artists in groups or on different levels instead of building massive installations in order to focus on an audience that could afford to buy these works and hanging them in their homes rather than emphasising the artists' practices alone.
The exhibition is an excellent opportunity to discover new artists; however, the difficulty of finding their names due to the lack of exhibition layout or labels beside the artworks makes it frustrating even for those frequently involved in the art scene. The QR code under the exhibition text leads to the Delphian Gallery's website with a list of the works and their prices. Unfortunately, there are not even 2-3 sentences about what the work is about or who the artist is, which, despite curators' attempts to document the creation of a new art movement, I see the works more like an art decor rather than an exploration of deeper contemporary themes.
Nevertheless, this method of presenting some smaller works in groups distinguished this exhibition from others held at the same time at the Saatchi Gallery, which were much more focused on documenting historical art events or celebrating the practices of artists whose works could easily fill such large white cube spaces. It created an opportunity for those who can not afford such extravagance, or their works only exist in smaller sizes, limiting the possibility of being presented at this prestigious institution.
The work that caught my attention the most was The Worm at the Core by Cristiano Di Martino. Its sharp metal arrows piercing a wounded block of wood are juxtaposed with the soft colours and delicate materials of the rest of the works in this room. It seems to represent the only authentic entity in the pink bubble of our art world. The three-dimensionality and shapes of the materials used create an almost tangible feeling of longing and suffering. Its location in the centre of this vast space, away from the flat elements hanging on the walls, isolates it even more, leaving it at the mercy of visitors begging to be noticed.
I felt very different when I looked at Joanna Wierzbicka's work Exhale, Inhale I with Edward Thompson's #42, #1and #27 works in the background. Long, meaty tentacles seem to emerge from vivid veins and pale body parts. The sculpture and photographs formed a terrifying whole, reminding me of the tensing muscles under my skin. This time, it was me who felt small and aware of my mortality.
There are many more works by artists in the collection, which I am sure would have kept me longer in a different space and arrangement, but the presentation's commercial leanings and the logistical challenges of engaging with the art left a sense of exclusivity and detachment for those unable to procure the works.
This exploration of The Way of All Our Flesh highlights the significant impact that each curatorial choice has on shaping the viewer's understanding of the exhibition's theme and the interpretations of the artworks. I'm eagerly anticipating future exhibitions by the Delphian Gallery in London. Meanwhile, I recommend everyone visit their show at the Saatchi Gallery, which will be open until March 3rd.