Publication: The Times
New Contemporaries is an annual touring exhibition of work by students from British art colleges. Selection is by open submission — there were 1,200 entries this year, from which thirty-three were chosen by selectors Sarah Kent, Jeremy Millar and Gavin Turk.
Aside from the actual exhibits themselves, a fascinating insight into the selection process itself is given in the catalogue and involves a discussion between Sarah Kent, Jeremy Millar and New Contemporaries’ board members Sacha Craddock and Des Lawrence. Nowhere, for example, are the criteria by which work was selected or rejected made explicit. Rather the process seems to have involved subjective notions of what was acceptable. The closest any of the selectors comes to stating a specific criterion is Kent who states: “...we were looking for work that seemed to have some kind of personal vision”. But could that rather woolly quality — of ‘personal vision’ — not be applied to almost any art?
Actually, one might have expected choosing such a small number of works from such a large initial number to have caused some real judicial dissent. In fact, there seems to have been very little. And while such unanimity inevitably makes the selection process easier, it also raises an number of interesting questions, not least of which is: how were the members of the judging panel themselves selected?
As far as the work goes, much of it is modish and, in some cases, highly derivative. It has been noted that this show has a “pastoral” theme and indeed a case can be made to support this idea, providing the definition of the term is stretched far enough. For example, Josephine Butler’s large cibachrome photographs (surely an overexploited medium?) show “lost” London landscapes. These are defined, apparently, by the artist having sought out surviving rural spaces among the urban. Although these photographs do have a pastoral edge, they involve little artfulness beyond the ability to point a camera and frame a basic composition. Their appeal stems, rather, from the dissonance between what is portrayed and the works’ titles, such as ‘City of London No 22’.
There are some interesting pieces here, however. Don Bury has edited existing cinematic works (‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Top Gun’ and ‘The Sound of Music’) to create a supposed homo-erotic text where none previously existed. The results are surprising, entertaining and above all, funny — effects enhanced by the deliberately incongruous music which has been used to overlay the visual imagery. Although Bury owes something to artists such as Douglas Gordon, his work has enough originality to make it stand out. On a wider level it demonstrates, perhaps, how all “reality” can be manipulated to present a particular point of view.
It is instructive that in the publicity material surrounding this show, it is implied that the success of an artist can be equated with his or her celebrity, rather than the aesthetic, moral , spiritual or intellectual worth of the art work itself. This is indeed a sobering thought and demonstrates how much of a constrictive hold the marketing men and the collectors now have on the artist and the institutions which create them.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2000
Royal Botanic Garden
0131 248 2983
Until Jan 14
Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 27-12-00