For many aspiring artists who are lucky enough to crack the proverbial nod, the Bloomberg New Contemporaries represents their first step up the ladder of the art world. With funding from the Arts Council England and the National Lottery, the organisation assists new art school graduates at the beginning of their careers by introducing them to the visual arts sector and to the public through a variety of platforms. The highlight of this process is the annual exhibition, which tours to various regional locations in the UK each year (in 2012, the exhibition was staged in Liverpool before debuting in London).
The express intention of the show is nobly democratic: to divorce the event from a fixed location or from any particular ‘big brand’ art school for that matter.
For the annual exhibition, recent graduates from art universities are invited to submit a portfolio of work, from which a panel of judges chooses the winners. In line with the New Contemporaries’ vision of open participation, all selections are made on an anomymous basis – the contributor’s school, age, and nationality are withheld from the judges – so as to reduce any potential for bias.
In spite of this, and perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly given London’s importance on the global art stage, most of the 29 artists in the 2012 exhibition (representing 82.7% of all participants) hail from a select number of well-established art colleges in London. This year, the Royal College of Art emerged at the top of the pops with a staggering 13 nominees (or 44% of the total pool). The Slade and Goldsmiths trailed behind with 3 exhibiting artists each. Seven of the artists are graduates of other well-known London art colleges (Chelsea, Central St Martins, Kingston, the Royal Academy of Art and Wimbledon) whereas the remaining 4 come from further afield (Belfast, Brighton, Glascow and Sheffield).
A striking feature of this year’s exhibition lies in the inescapable sense that a quality of sameness – an aesthetic moment in time – permeates the show. On first impression, the art at the 2012 annual exhibition appears to take on a diversity of forms – there is a mix of video pieces, mixed media installations, photographic prints, paintings (generally abstract or ‘naïve’ in their style), and some three-dimensional works that could loosely qualify as sculptural. To give two examples of where this is the case, the art on display all shares a common theme of being primarily conceptual in nature – although, in the gallery space itself, no text accompanies the works that could shed a greater light on the makers’ theoretical concerns. With the exception of much of the photography, most of the pieces also steer clear of being overly representational. Following on from our example, there is no doubt that many current artists produce less-concept heavy art, and possibly more figurative work. But, curators often exclude these art forms from contemporary art spaces, although not always (the inclusion of Paul Noble’s highly detailed drawings on the 2012 Turner Prize shortlist stands out as a notable exception).
In the case of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries, the panel of judges changes each year. As a result, the look and feel of each annual exhibition differs according to the tastes and concerns of the judges in that year, at least in theory. Previous selectors have included contemporary art superstars such as Sarah Lucas, Chris Ofili, Tacita Dean and Gavin Turk (to mention but a few), many of whom cut their teeth on the London art scene. Moreover, past judges have also included other artists whose work has previously been selected for the annual show. Writing for The Independent in 2011, prominent art critic, Charles Darwent remarked that one of the unintended consequences of this confluence of facts is that ‘the show tends to favour the kind of contemporary art admired by other contemporary artists, rather than, say, by collectors or gallerists or critics. To that extent, it is a perpetual motion machine, forever reinforcing the taste of art schools instead of that of the markets on which Bloomberg [the show’s headline private sponsor] thrives.’
So, is the 2012 Bloomberg New Contemporaries worth a visit? Yes, for those art lovers who want to get a sense of the kinds of art practices that are currently being promoted by the art establishment. Although not a crystal ball into the future, the Bloomberg New Contemporaries offers a window into where art and artists in contemporary Britain (particularly in London) might be headed in the years to come.
Words: Carla Raffinetti © Artlyst
The Bloomberg New Contemporaries was established in 1949, and has a long and illustrious history.
The selectors for 2012 were: Cullinan Richards (aka Charlotte Cullinan and Jeanine Richards), Nairy Baghramian and Rosalind Nashashibi.
The artists are: Anita Delaney, Bryan Dooley, Emanuel Röhss, Evariste Maiga, Freya Douglas-Morris, George Eksts, George Little, Jack Brindley, Jackson Sprague, Jamie Buckley, Jan May, Jennifer Bailey, Jennifer Phelan, Lauren Godfrey, Max Ruf, Natalie Finnemore, Nicola Frimpong, Nicole Morris, Oliver Osborne, Piotr Krzymowski, Polly Read, Salome Ghazanfari, Samuel Taylor, Sarah Jones, Simon Senn, Suki Seokyeong Kang, Tara Langford, Tony Law, Tyra Tingleff