Where does one have to go to in order to sense where contemporary art is at? Where is the ‘pulse’ to be discerned in Liverpool? Our larger cultural organisations seemingly rhapsodise ad nausea about their various commitment to emerging talent, yet a survey of such august cultural centres often reveals a paucity of such practitioners, especially if they are based locally. It therefore seems to fall upon smaller galleries to address this apparent neglect and to showcase the next generation of artists and makers.
Open 2 at OUTPUT has the potential to become a significant feature of Liverpool’s crowded cultural calendar; in only its second iteration it brings together a carefully considered selection of diverse local practitioners. This is not a Town Hall show, nor is it evidently a tick box exercise contrived purely for reasons of inclusivity – the works displayed have genuine merit, and more importantly reflect a variety of practices including video, painting, drawing, sculpture, mixed media collage and ceramics. Not all the work on display will appeal to all visitors, but that is hardly the object of this exercise; aesthetic judgements are subjective considerations and some pieces will resonate more than others. The upside is that this show potentially offers something for everyone.
More importantly, having been liberated from an overarching theme allows a greater degree of variety and indeed liberates the viewer from the often irksome academic approach to curation. This allows one to consider and enjoy individual pieces, rather than approaching them as mere components of someone else’s intellectual argument.
One can perhaps sense that the works were, broadly, exhibited besides one another according to colour. Gold Akanbi’s sensuous video ‘Beautiful Blue’ chimes aesthetically with Josie Jenkins’ painting ‘Stop Sign’; Zhuozhang Li’s mixed media collages echo the vivid bright hues of Paul Mellor’s large canvases, whilst Sophie Green’s illustrated works and Sumuyya Khader’s surreal abstract work share the same pink tones. These are significant pieces which should grace the walls of larger institutions, if only because they deserve to be fully appreciated by an ever wider audience.
I was particularly drawn to Claire Holtaway’s self-portrait, echoing as it does Schiele’s confidence of line, whilst Grace Edwards’ ceramics are as fine as any Studio Pottery sold in ‘stylish’ boutique galleries (main image).
The success of this show lies in no small part to the decision not only to curate, but to cultivate these emerging voices, to provide them with a forum in which their work can be exhibited with an element of collegiality. If it is to be that galleries such as OUTPUT become the vehicle by which the next generation of creatives are able to showcase their work then it is incumbent upon the comptrollers of the cultural purse strings to support and encourage these ‘non-institutions’. One might even conclude that the very future of Liverpool’s artistic vibrancy depends on ensuring that Open 2 at OUTPUT can continue for many years to come. One hopes it will.
Ed Montana-Williams is an Art and Architectural Historian and writer based in Liverpool.