richard wilson’s 20:50 is truly a contemporary masterpiece. The work is the only permanent installation at the saatchi gallery and has been continuously shown in each of the gallery’s venues since 1991. 20:50 transforms the gallery into a site of epic illusion.
viewed from the entrance platform 20:50 appears as a holographic field: simultaneously a polished floor, infinite clear pool, an expansive and indefinable virtual space that clinically absorbs and mirrors the gallery architecture. The room is in fact entirely flooded in oil. in theory, visitors are invited to examine the piece close-up via a walkway that extends into the lake, placing the viewer, waist deep, at the centre of a perfect mathematically symmetrical scope. Through this altered perspective 20:50’s phantasmical aura is enhanced, amplifying the disorientating and mesmerising experience of the space, and further confounding physical logic. in practice, due to british obsession with health and safety, you can only watch from a safe distance and the walkway is not in use.
20:50 takes its name from the type of recycled engine oil used. it is thick, pitch black, and absolutely indelible. 20:50 often has to be demonstrated to be believed: the liquid can be seen by blowing very gently on the surface.