Bloomberg New Contemporaries Find Its Legs At ICA




The ICA is overflowing with young hopefuls eager to make waves; ArtLyst tests the water

As Virginia Woolf claimed of books, perhaps so with works of art; ‘If they need shoring up by a preface here, an introduction there, they have no more right to exist than a table that needs a wad of paper under one leg in order to stand steady.’ Although perhaps particularly relevant to Poppy Whatmore’s ‘Cocked Leg’ (2009) – a table with a cheeky leg in the air – this is the condition of all the pieces in the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition (if one ignores their ‘Suggested Reading’ list, including amongst others, Anna Karenina and the Iliad). Submitted anonymously, the works must speak for themselves, and the resulting show is one of diverse voices (with media ranging from traditional studio methods to video projections and site-specific ‘interventions’), each hoping to be recognized as the sound of the future. Yet the dominant tone this year seems to be wry, understated, arch; which, then, are at least good enough to stand on their own two feet?

It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the more traditional medium of photography where the most assured and technically proficient voices emerge. Georgina McNamara’s surreal composition is reminiscent of William Kentridge’s host of animated objects perched on legs, from the walking globe to the striding megaphone and, most recently, his animation for Shostakovich’s opera ‘The Nose’. Here she creates a human version of such animations in a kind of living absurdist collage. Joshua Bilton’s black and white Post (diptych) (2010) masterfully juxtaposes natural and architectural forms; an intricate series of branches and scaffolding seems to enlace but proves, on further inspection, to be itself enclosed, and to contain nothing. It is a subtle and melancholic meditation on space, interaction and boundaries. In a similar vein is the happily named Ute Klein, whose series Resonant Entanglements – Bodily Space (2009), appears almost like a set of human Klein bottles – self-sufficient, self-contained systems. These are perhaps the most finished work in the exhibition, and the striking visual imagery uses the body not for shock-factor or sense of traditional figurative interest, but as an existing language with which to say new things.

Much of the painting remains disappointingly derivative, from Cy Twombly to Mark Rothko to Frank Stella. The most convincing stab at an individual mark comes from Kate Groobey, whose intriguing series, including such titles as ‘Hipp’s Toggle’ and ‘Bob’s Trajectory’ (2011), seems to situate its aesthetic somewhere between Enid Blyton’s Noddy and Japanese anime, in an Omega workshop palette. For the video entries, although  Se-Jin Kim’s ‘Nightworker’, (2009) is beautifully shot, it is perhaps overly narrative without seeming to say too much. George Petrou’s churning, flashing human/engine composites, (‘When we split in two’, 2011) is the most visually striking, yet also seems somehow depressingly empty. Hyewon Kwon’s projection, however, manages to merge visual interest with something a bit more challenging. The black and white footage of a workers’ boarding house in Seoul is repeated six times, each with a different voiceover and soundtrack, becoming quietly, almost innocently, more subversive. The tacit manipulation of the footage questions our interpretation of images in the light of contextual information, the role of documentary footage and the significance of its construction.

Although one might hark back to the New Contemporaries’ fine vintage of 1977 (Helen Chadwick and Anish Kapoor) or ’61 (David Hockney, Allen Jones and R B Kitaj), and bemoan this year’s decidedly muted offering, there nevertheless remains a full complement of varied and interesting works on display. Overall the majority of it might not sweep you off your feet, but, as far as the future of contemporary art is concerned, the ICA remains the best place to try and get a foot in the door. Words: Isabel Seligman © 2011 ArtLyst


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