In her most recent body of work, Saville makes her art history references more prominent. Entitled “Ancestors,” her summer exhibition at Gagosian New York included canvases depicting humans and creatures atop plinths—suggesting a metanarrative in which Saville was painting a series of sculptural artworks that already existed. One composition, of a man holding a child, took a contemporary spin on Michelangelo’s Pietà (1499). A series of “Fates” paintings featured mash-ups of human and non-Western sculptural body parts, calling to mind Picasso’s fractured picture planes.
Still, a certain violence continues to tinge Saville’s canvases. Bodies appear spliced and hacked; angry red brushstrokes slash across their surfaces. These gestures discomfort the viewer as they enhance the work’s vitality: It’s hard to look at a Saville canvas without feeling something.
If Saville’s work can be difficult to look at, it’s proven eminently sellable. The status of being “the most expensive living female artist” seems both an honor and a complex burden. Saville never set out to achieve this distinction, noted Wingate, but rather to explore “an exultation in paint.”
“It’s still a shame that we say ‘the living female painter,’” said the Norton Museum’s Brutvan, critiquing the way the media has characterized the sale. “It’s so appalling today. She’s a great painter. She’s really in her own path.”