The alumni of New Contemporaries, the annual emerging graduate-artist prize, are an esteemed group – Tacita Dean, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Ed Atkins, and Laure Prouvost to name a handful – and it’s almost certain that a number of 2014’s vintage of 55 selected graduates will go on to great things. But this year, one clearly marked by austerity and low generational confidence, lacks the instant classic: these works are more pensive and inward-looking than usual.
“WE’RE ALL VERY DISAPPOINTED” proclaims Alice Hartley’s enormous screenprint (2013), jarring apologetic sentiment and re-contextualising it in bold, pronounced form. Even for a piece larger than your standard London room, there is a curiously shy aspect to the work. Here and elsewhere, in this 65th edition of New Contemporaries, the artists have evidently opted to work with the economically viable mediums: rather than painting we see printmaking, plenty ephemeral performance, while almost half of the roster (24) are video works. New Contemporaries has always had an effect on the market, with gallerists among the first arrivals to a new iteration, but the market reciprocates too.
Marco Godoy’s video work ‘Claiming the Echo’ (2012) relocates the protest chants usually heard at demonstrations in Spain, to a choir shuffling along the pews of a cathedral, or perhaps even government building. Will you take us more seriously now? it asks, to a score of Henry Purcell. Similarly, Melissa Kime’s ‘Technicolour Joseph and The Amazing City Bankers’ (2013) features low-flying airplanes and warped suits, shorn of their supposed dominance over life.
A conspicuous interest in modes of production and materiality also is apparent in 2014. Ebrel Moore takes influence from from William S. Burroughs’ “cut-up technique” by combining a detail of the Hieronymus Bosch painting ‘Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns)’ (c. 1495) with an image of a morbidly obese woman. Entitled ‘Jesus Fat’ (2013) it blends the bizarre, benevolent, and voyeuristic. Matt Copson’s ‘Reynard the Fox’ (2013), meanwhile, contrasts a thick black, painted outline, with a projection of alternating mood colours. All the while, South-East Londoner Reynard rants on discriminatorily (“I hate… medium-build white Caucasian males, babies…”), and tellingly ends up dying.
But introversion and introspection are frequent themes throughout. Yi Dai’s brilliant birch wood panels evoke Lucio Fontana and Sarah Lucas with their minimalistic abstraction. The CSM graduate’s work poetically speaks of desire, as torn tights border the frames, and a thin line of broken mirror bisects the piece, with tufts of hair along the middle. Elsewhere, Bee Flowers’ limestone bas-reliefs suggest cultural intrusion as an inseparable from the self. Marie Jacotey-Voyatzis’ ‘Be Young, Be Wild, Be Desperate’ (2013) is a tender and vulnerable array of comic strips, meditating on love and death. One powerfully intones: “Forget everything/don’t forget about me.”
This year’s New Contemporaries was, as tradition now dictates, previously part of the Liverpool Biennale’s World Museum, was surely better fitting in the plentiful spaces up north. But when director Kirsty Ogg describes the annual touring exhibition as “a snapshot of work being made in UK art schools at a particular point in time,” it’s difficult to disagree. Whittled down from 1400 initial submissions by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Enrico David, and Goshka Macuga, it is certainly a kaleidoscope of style, as with every year, but it also coheres wonderfully.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2014 – ICA London – until 25 January 2015
Words: Peter Yeung © Artlyst 2014 photo courtesy of Peter Yeung all rights reserved