East Wing X: Material Matters @ Courtauld Institute of Art – REVIEW
Every other year, coming on for two decades, the Courtauld Institute of Art has given over its East Wing to a student-run exhibition of contemporary art. It represents a sort of test run for the curators of the future, currently being incubated in one of the world’s leading art history institutions – that first flight into the world for which the students are being groomed. And it pays to watch this space, the very first exhibition in 1991 being curated by Joshua Compson – the man who would become a major champion of the YBAs –, and featuring work by artists such as Grayson Perry, Mark Wallinger, and Antony Gormley
This year’s exhibition, Material Matters: The Power of Medium, brings together a substantial number of artworks – by artists both established and emerging – that have been created either using new media, or that set about re-interpreting traditional forms of representation. But it is also, admirably, an attempt to ‘challenge the stereotypical view of art history’ – as excessively specialised, elitist etc –, and to ‘create an exhibition that is accessible for everyone’.
This accessibility has, without doubt, been aided by the inclusion of big names, including Damien Hirst, Howard Hodgkin, Paula Rego, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, and Rachel Whiteread. And it has furthermore been helped by energetic curation, with the students embracing the fact that they have had to install around a working building (with class resuming almost instantly), creatively integrating the artworks into the fabric of the space. The full-height use of the two stairwells is a perfect example of this, one filled with a multitude of hanging wire ‘footsteps’ by artist Shi Jindian – presumably in ghostly reference to the innumerable passages of people through the building over hundreds of years –, and the other shimmering with an intense rainbow of coloured threads created by Gabriel Dawe.
Another treat in this respect is Ruper Shrive’s installation, The Sleep of Reason, with glossy printouts of faces and owls sculpted and scrunched into three dimensional gargoyles, growing out of the walls like mushrooms, and keeping a beady eye over the corridors.
In fact, there is a lot of great art in here. Take Heringa/Van Kalsbeek’s ‘three-dimensional paintings’, with vibrantly coloured resin hardened mid-splash, swirling and twisting into gory capillaries, meaty brush strokes, and Venetian glass; or Enzo Guaricci’s marble balloons, that gravity-defyingly strain at their strings; or Emi Miyashita’s perverse little drawings of penis slicing, and fornication voyeuristically viewable through genteel magnifying glasses.
And so, if this exhibition really does turn out to be ‘an insight into what to expect in the years to come’ – as the Courtauld’s Director modestly asserts –, the future of the artworld is in good (and no doubt well-manicured) hands. Words Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst