Bloomberg New Contemporaries: the Good, the Bad and the Badly Displayed

South London Gallery exhibition view

Although inconveniently located in South London Gallery in Peckham – and not in the ICA as usual – this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition was very enjoyable. 57 artists, most of them recent university graduates, were given the chance to display works in a variety of media in both the South London Gallery’s main building and the recently opened Fire Station.

I really liked that the exhibition involved artists of all media. There were paintings, drawings, installations, textile-works and video-artworks all cohabitating in the same space. The diversity of media suggested that the Bloomberg Contemporaries selection committee wasn’t as dogmatic and politically-minded as the Turner prize committee was the last two years.

Last year, the Turner prize’s committee just nominated artists which were female or had an ethnic background. This year, they just chose video-artworks. The Turner prize’s proclaimed aim is to award the best artists working in Britain. It strikes to me that they have extraordinarily failed in achieving their aim. It’s grossly implausible that 2017’s five best artists were all non-white or female and that 2018’s four best artists were all video-artists. I guess this is a feature of our time… (political) fads can seemingly justify bending the rules of logic and drowning common sense (or an artist) in a nearby lake…

Well back to the show…Whilst I was sympathetic to the diversity and the lack of a unifying (political) theme, some artworks were rather unfortunately hung. A painting by Yangwha, a 35 year-old artist born in South Korea, for instance, was hung and lit such that it was impossible to look at it without one’s own shadow interfering. Mishaps can be forgiven, but in this case it was practically impossible to enjoy the painting without getting passively aggressive.

Yangwha, A Bright Future (2017)

There were a few artworks in the show I disliked because they were fashionable, generic and the kind of stuff you see all over the place in degree shows. Rebecca Harper’s Stouping (2017), for instance, had a Doig-like aesthetic depicting individuals standing around aimlessly on a beach. Similarly, Antonia Showering’s Introspective Views (2017) had a Peter Doig or Daniel Richter-like aesthetic showing a hipster dressed in white strolling down a path. Not only was the style unoriginal; the scenes depicted seemed entirely decorative and lacked any kind of content whatsover. Both artworks seemed like artworks destined for quick Instagram consumption and certainly shouldn’t have been displayed in a show promoting the best emerging artists in Britain. The fact that both works were hung in close proximity only heightened the boredom.

Rebecca Harper, Stouping (2017)
Antonia Showering, Introspective Views (2017)

Since people (especially those I criticise) tell me I’m too young to make enemies, I will now concentrate on what was good. There were two artworks in the show I particularly enjoyed.

The first is Penance (2016-2017) by Camilla Hanney, who studied at the Institute of Design and Technology in Ireland. Penance is a piece of fabric (perhaps table cloth) meticulously burnt with spots to create an ornamental pattern. This novel technique caught me as something of a surprise; what seemed like a granny-like table cloth, actually was a Sisyphus-like test of stamina. The work was rather fittingly called “Penance”, reflecting the mundane and repetitive labour which went into producing something which at first blush looks completely ordinary.

One thing I was curious about was how she created those ornamental patterns. Did Hanney, similarly to artists such as Roy Lichtenstein or Sigmar Polke, project an (ornamental) image on to the table cloth and then burn holes to imperfectly resemble the pattern she had projected?

Camilla Hanney, Penance (2016-2017)
Camilla Hanney, Penance (2016-2017)

My favourite artwork in the show was Tom Waring’s Hurneball (2017). Waring, British and a Wimbledon graduate, painted Hurneball for his 2017 MFA degree show; this is the first exhibit of his painting since then. The painting, in the contrasting colours yellow and black, has clear suggestions of figuration – trees, a jellyfish, a chain and certain architectural elements can clearly be made out. Yet, much is left ambiguous and vague. The architectural elements aren’t clearly discernable, nor is it clear how these different suggestions of form are related to each other. The work is neither completely figurative, nor abstract: there is an indeterminate suggestion towards figuration.

The painting isn’t about anything; it seems like Waring discovered its subject-matter and overall composition as he went along. Although perhaps the overall composition of the painting is reminiscent of those of still-life painters, I think Waring’s visual language is novel and original.

Tom Waring, Hurneball (2017)
Tom Waring, Hurneball (2017)

Whilst not all art was great and there were embarrassing mishaps, I think some intriguing artworks were to be seen at South London Gallery.

New Bloomberg Contemporaries 2018
South London Gallery, London
5 December 2018 – 24 February 2019

Written and researched by Martin Schlombs

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