The Future of Contemporary Art

I must admit I am often plagued by skepticism walking into ‘best of’ exhibitions – the ones, like  the recent Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011: In the Presence, that promise to clairvoyantly open up a window onto the future of contemporary art. Often, these group exhibitions seem plagued by too many artists, who are represented by a single work, thrust together in a curatorial jumble that proves great challenge to navigate.

Since 1949, Young Contemporaries, or the now-named Bloomberg New Contemporaries, has been presenting its view of the future of contemporary art, selecting recent graduates from art schools across the UK. This year, spread across the ICA in London, are 40 artists who span the genres of painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, conceptual art and performance. With the likes of the Chapman Brothers, Anish Kapoor and David Hockney included in past incarnations, there is always the hope that amongst the chosen, the next great British artist is lurking.

With no text to accompany the exhibition, the work must stand on its own merits. While I appreciate that the viewer is encouraged to form unbiased opinions based on the formal, aesthetic and narrative properties inherent in the work, I can’t help but think that we might be missing something, and that much of the work would benefit from further contextualisation – and perhaps a better hang. So what might the future hold?

Noel Hensey, Death is Here, 2009, c-type print on aluminium, 42 x 60 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Bloomberg New Contemporaries.

1. Death by Photography

Tucked away in a less-than stellar location on the stairwells is the work of two artists whose muted photographs capture constructed moments of intrigue. Noel Hensey’s Death is Here is an unsettling and eerie image in which the perfectly balanced, slick composition if offset by the unsettling, and perhaps prophetic, narrative that one envisions may play out in a suburban nightmare.

Ute Klein, Resonanzgeflecht # 8, 2009, lightjet C-type print on dibond, 35 x 36 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Bloomberg New Contemporaries.

2. Photographic Performance

Ute Klein’s photograph is more about performance than photography, exploring the spaces that bodies may occupy. The extreme corporal contact is both comforting and confining – the contorted poses of the performers intertwine two bodies to become one – calm and content from the interior and impenetrable from the outside.

David Ben White, Painting Pavilion 1, 2011, giclée print, 50 x 33 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Bloomberg New Contemporaries.

3. Structural Paintings

David Ben White’s Painting Pavilions balance the whimsical with intellectual thrust. Using haphazardly balanced paintings and furniture to construct interior architectural structures, White knocks painting from its privileged place of prestige. With the act of photographing these structures, painting is further kicked while it is down, reduced to common reproduction, and the ultimate decorative item for the home.

Katie Goodwin, Silent Landscape, 2010, HD video, 3 min. Courtesy of the artist and Bloomberg New Contemporaries.

4. The De-structuralisation of Cinema

Katie Goodwin’s self-destructive landscape brings unseen violence to the frontlines. The silent video,  based on filmed war footage, features a highly violent series of explosions in an soulless place. Freed from the characters and narratives which overshadow the cinematic landscape, our attention is drawn to the ubiquity of this destruction – constantly looked at, but never really seen.

5. Intangible Performance

One of the most affecting works in the exhibition has no visual reference. Throughout the spaces, the smell of perfume perfuses the air, growing stronger at times and then fading away. Without text, title, or attention, performance artist Leah Capaldi quietly hijacks your senses, playing on individual associations and the memories that scent draws out. Doused with an entire bottle of Chanel Allure perfume, Capaldi’s performers meander through the space and literally take over with their sickening smell. The allure of the perfume is nothing short of nauseating in its excess, as the rituals of beauty are taken to extremes.

This future smells of potential, and may turn out to be quite promising after all.