As we know the Bloomberg New Contemporares at the ICA in London is a yearly exhibition that showcases a group of young artists who, in their majority, have not even finished their ‘formal artistic education’. This group is selected by what we could call a panel of New Contemporaries’ Alumni who can prove some sort of commercial success in the near past. In other words, the new Old Contemporaries select the brand new ones Needless to say that this selection has emerged a few years ago so as to organise the chaotic ‘emerging art bubble’ for those who are scouting for the next big things. The result is that they are never there as with all things in the contemporary art market. I am saying this because the big art fairs are supposed to be the place where the big players are but they are never there. So let’s say that the Bloomberg New Contemporaries is another chapter in that long chain of unfulfilled promises that keeps the art world together.
The problem with this is that the ‘judges’, who are usually the victims of the ‘fast track/success now’ grinder of the contemporary art market, tend to perpetuate their kind. Thus, a supposedly very young and fresh show ends up being extremely conservative. Even though both Old and New Contemporaries seem convinced that they are on the cutting edge of art, the visual outcome comes across as dated because one tends to see the same thing repeating over and over again through the years.
This year’s the selectors, Chantal Joffe, Ryan Gander and Nathaniel Mellors curated the show as divided into three groups: those artists who create humorous visual oxymorons (these might be the ones mentored by Gander), those who use film and video to depict life through a fragment of it (these might be Mellors’s favourites), and finally those who use traditional media to create new images (these we can call…the Chantal Joffe’s gang).
So upon arrival, the visitor finds himself surrounded by what we can call ‘the Ganderites’ who are spread around the first (basement) room and their work is a mix of different media and materials which, in itself, is supposed to challenge ‘traditional’ conventions of artistic practice. These are the objectual formalists. Let’s see who they are. Menna Cominetti’s (b.1989) work is sleek and comprises a board, a rather basic calligraphic (not really) drawing and three bars shaped in waves added as a sculptural relief on top of the drawings. There is something very postmodern about this image but what I mean by this is that there is something retro 1990s about this image. It is sufficiently neat and polished and it conveys that message (anti-avant garde, postmodern, objectual, eclecticism) very clearly. Because of this clarity, it does not surprise me that in all the printed material it is one of the first images chosen by the organisers to represent the show. Kate Hawkins (b.1980) places a tile in a metal structure disposed as an open book. The tile has a face drawn on it and what appears to be the opposing page is empty. In the same direction of this material deconstruction of the frame and the use of the work of art in its traditional supports we can find Catherine Hughes and her Into the Fold; REN Hydra-Calm Global Protection Day Cream, 2012. It is composed of a series of advertising boxes made of powder-coated aluminium, glass, fluorescent lights, digital print and there is a progression from vandalism into some sort of poetics of space that visually allude to Dan Flavin but also to the post- minimal poetic instalationism of, for example, Ryan Gander. I think, however, that the artist that summarises all this ethos is Roman Liška (b. 1980, Hamburg, Germany). He is an objectualist in the tradition of the first minimalism and that’s it. He juxtaposes different and unexpected materials such as marble, granite and a newspaper and the whole thing demands from the viewer that sort of respect that comes with the art institution’s indexicality. I used to like this artist but he is getting lazy. I am sure this has to do with his gallerist (Rod Barton) convincing himself and the artist that he is already up (bordering genius) and the result is boredom and complete lack of pathos. Steven Morgana’s It Was All Ephemeral As A Rainbow / Extract (Light Sculpture), 2012 is made of acrylic mirror, neon/argon lights, scaffold poles and F-clamps (originally powered by a portable electric generator, refuelled with petrol decanted into various brands of bottled water cheaper per litre than the water it replaces) and creates a humorous and visually appealing gay halo that hovers over four or five plastic bottles of mineral water. Any allegorical meaning is arrested by the radical juxtaposition of materials. Having said this what is the point? In the realm of the pointless we have Hardeep Pandhal’s Bruce Parry vest by Mum which is a vest knitted by the artist’s mother with a rather horrible face and button sowed to its front. I guess the judges tried to be funny but it comes across as truly moronic and, at this point, I think that the London contemporary art world represented by the likes of Ryan Gardner should stop thinking that silly geekery can be automatically translated into cool because that is not art but fashion and from the point of view, it is old fashioned.
Now let’s move to the Chantal Joffee’s side. They are on the second room in the basement and they are paintings and sculptures depicting unusual animaloid forms. Having said that, this is the only place where the traditional media are somehow explored and where we can actually check whether the New Contemporaries can actually paint and sculpt. Two pieces caught my attention. The first one by Laura O’Neill and it is called Boney P (2012) and it is a Giacometti-like image of an alien or an fossilised ostrich. I like the dimensions 82 x 75 x 80 cm and the contrast with the rest of the show makes it relevant. I felt slightly cheated that she used resin and steel and not only marble. Therefore it is more a prop than proper marble sculpture. Tom Worsfold’s My Snake in Your Grass done with paint and tape it is not even a joke but it is actually funny. Does this deserve to be at the ICA? I guess that is the question with this whole show for it looks like different and not very polished exercised illustrating a very feeble point that always tries to be funny. The second one was by Archie Franks who can actually paint but his is a concoction of influences trying again to be too funny through the deployment of visual irony. Irony. Irony. Irony and once more… Irony. So the references to Wayne Thibaud, Frank Auerbach, etc are taken to a ‘Rocky Horror Show’ level and that is supposed to make it relevant but it does not. It is silly but it is undoubtedly, for obvious reasons, one of my favourites.
The worst by far is Ophelia Finke’s Konquiz (wood, paint, varnish, silicon, plastic, found objects, Plasticine, clay, bones, 44 x 47 x 42 cm). It is so shit that does not deserve any comment. It is comprised of an assortment of ‘things’ which are placed on a box with the inscription El Dorado Ophelia. I am sure she has a very good subjective/transcendental explanation for each ‘object’ but I don’t have the time and why should I give it to her if she does not even make the effort to communicate or produce objects at a basic level. I guess this is that kind of art that demands two hours with the narcissistic artist and also requires the reading of a hand book or something like that.
Finally, the Nathaniel Mellors’ group (I am sorry if I am wrong but it is a good way of organising this chaos) is linked to video art. To be honest, they are all quite irrelevant with the exception of Shelley Theodore’s Madame Boussieux Looks, 2013. There is life in this one. It connects, at least, at some level.
I would say that I guess the problem of the Bloomberg Contemporaries lies in the belief that formal artistic education can make artists out of children. My particular problem with the Bloomberg Contemporaries, however, is that it leaves me empty every time I see it. I used to believe that it was because of its desperation to be cool but now I realise that is because these twenty somethings do not know what to be an artist entails and have not lived. They just do not know how to connect in an era of superficial connectivity through the social media and so for. Ryan Gander represents that. It comes across as young and fresh but he represents the past. We need to reconnect body and soul and that should be the artists’ job from now on. Just a thought.