Artists in Conversation | Jenny Saville
November 9, 2022
Jenny Saville in conversation with Skarlet Smatana, director of the George Economou Collection, Athens, Greece
About Jenny Saville
Born in 1970 in Cambridge, England, Saville is a contemporary British artist known for her large-scale painted depictions of nude women. She partially credits her interest in big bodies to Pablo Picasso and his sense of permanence. She became interested in the imperfections of the flesh, with all its societal implications and taboos, and has been captivated with these details since she was young. While on a fellowship in Connecticut in 1994, Saville observed a New York City plastic surgeon at work. Studying the reconstruction of human flesh was formative in her perception of the body—its resilience, as well as its fragility. She explored medical pathologies; viewed cadavers; examined animals and meat; studied classical and Renaissance sculpture; and observed intertwined couples, mothers with their children, and individuals whose bodies challenge gender dichotomies.
Saville is an original member of the Young British Artists, the group of painters and sculptors who came to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She reinvigorated contemporary figurative painting by challenging the limits of the genre and raising questions about society’s perception of the body and its potential. Her work reveals a deep awareness, both intellectual and sensory, of how the body has been represented over time and across cultures. Saville’s work was included in the Fiftieth Venice Biennale in 2003 and she has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at Gagosian, New York; Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome; Kunsthaus, Zürich; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. She received a BA from Glasgow School of Art in 1992 and spent a term at the University of Cincinnati in 1991, where she enrolled in a course in women’s studies. From 2000 to 2006, she was a lecturer at the Slade School of Fine Arts, London. Saville lives and works in Oxford, England.
About Skarlet Smatana
Smatana is director of the George Economou Collection in Athens. Since taking the position in 2012, she has honed its objectives and led its exhibition program, contextualizing it within twentieth-century art-historical and contemporary discourse. She often collaborates with major public institutions and private foundations to promote publicly exhibited collections and philanthropic and lending initiatives to support contemporary artists. She has organized solo exhibitions of artists including Saville, Jeff Wall, Charles Ray, David Hammons, and Rashid Johnson, as well as a two-person show of Georg Baselitz and Paul McCarthy. Before joining the George Economou Collection, Smatana worked at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; Pace Gallery, New York; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; and as director at L&M Arts, New York.
She has an MA in art history, theory, and criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, focusing on postwar and contemporary art with a specialization in German art.