Open West: International Contemporary Artists On View At The Wilson

Curators Lyn Cluer Colman and Sarah Goodwin, established the open west in 2007, and so started an annual open submission exhibition for international artists practising contemporary art. The show is now on display at The Wilson, Cheltenham’s art gallery and museum, until the 28th June, and offers the chance to see pieces from a range of disciplines: ceramics, photography, installation, painting, and sculpture.

This year saw nearly 400 submissions, with the judging panel considering 1400 individual pieces of work. Of the 44 artists selected there is a good representation from the UK, and other countries in Europe, Canada and China. It is exciting to see the commonalities and differences which run through the work highlighting the variety of contexts that each artist operates in.  This is an indication of how the art world has become truly international and emphasises how artists outside of the UK hold the open west in high regard as a showcase for cutting edge contemporary art.  It is therefore very interesting to see the huge variety and depth of this exhibition and how the work is a reflection of the experiences each artist has of their locality.  For example Angela Li Zenxiang from China explores levels of freedom in countries in her piece called The Statue of Liberty quits, which sees her ‘flashing’ her body.  She says, “It would be too dangerous to exhibit in China.”

The range of work in this exhibition offers us the chance to reconsider traditional forms, whilst at the same time celebrating their resilience.  Painting and sculpture shine through in new ways and are shown alongside experimental photographic works, which play with and reinterpret traditional concepts of photography.  Tina Hage challenges the two dimensional by teasing the photographic paper out from the wall so that it falls on the floor.  In The place here (VII) an image of an indoor swimming pool cascades down in folds mimicking the shape of its cover. Many themes and links can be drawn between the pieces on display and the viewer is given the freedom to formulate their own opinion thanks to impartial curating.  There is work which might be seen to be dark and sinister in its appearance creating a sense of mystery, for example Steph Goodger’s Les Non-Réclamés (The Unclaimed) Diptych: a painting of a series of coffins filled with executed Communards.  Other pieces have a surprising lightness: Beatrix Baker’s Half Formed Body comes to mind because it is made from oak, but the gently curving framework leads us to think it is a light structure.  

Other connections are possible which make it a thought provoking and stimulating show with many elements to consider such as: contexts, media, the artist’s intention, method and subject. Walking through the exhibition, visitors are presented with works in compartments, booths, stairwells, amongst collections, and an atrium.  Entering the building we are welcomed by Aiko Kubo’s 18 metre long hanging, which fills the entrance and space next to the staircase.  It is a comment on contemporary society: our dilemma with a need to produce packaging and how we go on to recycle this.  It also reflects the artist’s own contradictory position: working in a souvenir shop as a low paid sales assistant (the source of these bags) with a Masters in Fine Art.

This year the open west presented two prizes: the Curator’s Award and University of Gloucestershire Award.  The University Award went to Tim Ridley for Monkid and Mr Foxy.  These are two portraits of animals shown in a conventional sitting surrounded by heavy frames, but miniature in size.  The way that they are painted indicates the wild nature of these beasts, which have been tamed to hold tight poses for a momentary glance by the viewer.  The Curator’s Award went to Jonathan Wade whose work of strong sculptural ceramic objects bursts out from plinths both from above and below.  One of his three works was inspired by a pulsating section of bark that gave rise to a glossy black globe which hangs suspended from a wall.

The Wilson, with its new innovative refurbishment and light interiors, is an excellent venue to host a show like the open west.  This is an exhibition which has breadth, depth and intensity, and is a showcase for emerging and established artists whose careers are at an exciting juncture.

 Words/Photos: Camilla Metcalf © artlyst 2015


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