Institute of Contemporary Arts The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH

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Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012
Review by Louisa Elderton

With a history dating back to the 1950s, New Contemporaries has traversed decades of contemporaneity. What was once new soon becomes accepted, established, old, and the following generation gets ready to take to the stage. This year’s edition of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012, so titled due to its ongoing support from the financial information and news provider Bloomberg (the Arts Council also support the initiative, in a less eponymous role), was selected by three - well, four - artists; Nairy Baghramian, Cullinan Richards and Rosalind Nashashibi. Whittling down the long-list from 1500 applicants, they settled on a group of 29 artists, all final year undergraduates, current postgraduates, or artists who graduated from Fine Art degrees in the year 2011. The exhibition has been mounted in a variety of spaces, and this year it travelled to two venues; the first in Liverpool, as part of the Biennale, and then London’s ICA.

As to be expected, the works in the exhibition were broad-ranging and varied, with practices spanning painting, sculpture, photography and film. Essentially a finessed degree show, these are the artists who are perceived as being the most progressive and pertinent to art practice today, and accordingly find themselves plucked from the mire to be shown within hallowed white-cubed walls.

Highlights included Jackson Sprague’s delicate, minimalist works, which occupy a space somewhere between painting and sculpture, playing with form and surface to create strangely alluring objects. Suki Seokyeong Kang’s painting ‘Heavy Love’ channels Cy Twombly’s mark making, with calligraphic movements inscribed on the canvas in deep purples and yellows. Her sculpture is equally textural and energised, combining materials including bronze, leather and mesh, while Max Ruf utilises the office-centric media of toner pigments and acetone on Xerox copy in his abstracted paintings. Bryan Dooley’s photographic collages are reminiscent of the surreal and, at times, unnerving works of John Stezaker, reframing the ordinary to invert our perceptions of the everyday, and Nicola Frimpong’s almost caricatured, carnivalesque watercolours conjure humorously strange and dystopic worlds, with elements of Hogarthian satire.

The artist duo judges Cullinan Richards (comprised of Charlotte Cullinan and Jeanine Richards) state in the exhibition catalogue that: ‘Thinking about the installation, we modestly hope to pose questions about the possibility of the exhibition as a medium itself - exploring its possibilities as a coherent ‘object’ as well as a collection of individual works’. Rosalind Nashashibi furthers, ‘you do not need to understand it; you need only walk through it - narrated differences, that is our work’. This sense of narrated differences was certainly achieved; as you walk through the exhibition, basic, formal, surface-level relationships inevitably establish themselves between the works, but the essence of the show feels discombobulated, with such a vast array of media, materials, themes and concepts thrown together within such little space.

The modus operandi of the exhibition being able to function as a cohesive object becomes obscured as one sees it less as a whole, as one body - implied by the singularity of the word ‘object’ - and more as a multitude of unconnected threads that don’t quite weave together. With the lack of interpretive material accompanying the exhibition (absent both within the exhibition space itself, and within the show’s catalogue), the viewer is slightly left ambling around, wondering what to make of this deconstructed object, and as Nashashibi says, not fully understanding it. Everything has to be taken at face value, which of course is an absolutely valid way of encountering art, but when there are so many different strands coming together, some basic guiding information helps to flesh out the whole. Surely part of the role of cherry-picking these artists out of the mass of art school graduates is to provide some further context or insight into how their practices manifest more generally, beyond the few works on display.

The onus is on the individual viewer to go away and put further research into these artists. This raises a question regarding the extent to which a Kunsthalle exhibition like this should actively inform its audience or merely present material - the latter being the more pertinent, here. Ultimately, this medium of the exhibition as object aims to show us what is currently taking place within our art schools, giving us an overall sense of emerging art practice as a whole, rather than guiding us through the individual practices of these young artists. The presence of this yearly exhibition is undeniably important in that it continues to give emerging artists a platform to be seen and heard (or in some cases, smelled, as with the work of Leah Capaldi in the 2011 incarnation). However, the form of the exhibition itself seemed to reduce the work so that, in certain cases, it appeared obscured and lifeless.

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