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Review: Bloomberg New Contemporaries

January 18, 2011

Anne Blood seeks out the next big thing at this annual exhibition of current and recent students’ work

Drawing to a close at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London next week is the annual Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition. Established in 1949, the exhibition showcases the work of art students and recent graduates, and has over the years included emerging talents such as Glenn Brown, Damien Hirst and Mark Leckey, to name but a few. This year Leckey returns to New Contemporaries as a member of its international panel of selectors, which also includes the British painter Dawn Mellor and the Mexican sculptor Gabriel Kuri. Tied to a dynamic programme of discussions, workshops and performances, the 2010 exhibition includes the work of 49 artists working across film, sculpture, photography, painting, animation and performance.

In the midst of a barrage of often limiting theme-dominated contemporary exhibitions and biennials in the UK – such as the recently closed Liverpool Biennial which attempted to tie together its eclectic range of works under the vague link of ‘art with emotional impact’ – it is a breath of fresh air to see a show comprised of works selected through an open submission process and which welcomes differing voices. In fact the basic criteria for entry to New Contemporaries 2010 is simply that work must be submitted by final year undergraduates and current postgraduates of Fine Art at UK colleges and those artists who graduated in the year 2009.  As a result, the works in the show do exactly what you would expect eager young graduates to do: they jostle for your attention.

Walking into the main gallery downstairs at the ICA it is impossible to miss Melis van den Berg’s The Orb Project #2 (2009) (pictured left), an enormous openwork iron sphere which is holds the contents of the artist’s studio in a compact nugget within, but it is not long before one’s eyes are drawn to the flatscreen TV mounted near the ceiling on the far wall which plays Kristian de la Riva’s Cut (2009), an animated series of strangely comic and macabre scenes of self-mutilation performed by a simple line-drawn male figure. Yet in this same room it is not only the monumental or the brash that grabs one’s attention; there are also welcome moments of quiet contemplation. Daniel Lichtman’s text and video work Untitled (2010) (pictured below), a 4 minute 53 second looped PowerPoint presentation consisting of a series of textual fragments from the artist’s diary from age 10 onwards, requires the viewer to pause and digest each diary fragment, each memory snapshot.

Continuing into the upper galleries, Keren Dee’s 49 collaged postcards, part of her Postcards (series) (2008–09) (pictured above), stand out as a show highlight. With the masterful dexterity reminiscent of John Stezaker, each card is made up of well-known images that grace the fronts of postcards from museum gift shops across the world. Roughly cut, and then delicately aligned, new scenes emerge from the fragments of familiar pieces, scenes both comical and critical of the way in which artistic discourse is dominated by the same set of images. Set against the obvious fractura of Dee’s collages, one also finds upstairs a return to an arguably more ‘traditional’ demonstration of artists’ skill, the ability to hide the labour and smooth the surface of the image. In works such as Claas Gutsche’s Hunger (Wüstefeld) (2009), a monumental linocut print with the haunting perfection of a photograph, it is hard not to marvel at the perfection of the print and its seamless execution. However, the work’s true strength lies in its ability to use simple variations in light and shade to recreate an image of the world that is at once familiar and uncanny.

While many shows claim to display or define the state of British art now, New Contemporaries succeeds above other ventures by taking a curatorial step back and allowing the works of art to speak for themselves.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries runs until 23rd January at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.

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