Text by James Schofield
Envisioned as an annual window into the broad artistic mindset and praxis of the current generation of emerging artists, New Contemporaries enters its 65th incarnation this year, openings its doors at the World Museum in Liverpool as part of the Liverpool Biennial 2014 before moving to the ICA in November to complete its two-stage pilgrimage of the country.
Selected by former New Contemporaries participants Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Enrico David and Goshka Macuga, the works occupy a wide range of mediums and aesthetic styles that reflect the eclectic tastes one would expect of the selectors themselves. Traditionally filled with the hopeful exuberance of artists taking their first steps into the open expanse of the wider art world, here the works on display greet the viewer with a palpable sense of collective social disappointment and unrest which silently broods into a variety of other concerns as the exhibitions continues on subjects such as sexuality, identity, politics, economics, and art production itself.
After navigating the vast World Museum and its other exhibits to find the show the visitor meanders down a long empty corridor and through a door to be met with Alice Hartley’s striking ‘We’re All Very Disappointed’ (2013). The giant multicoloured wall-sized screen print masquerading as a painted work is a visual stimulus that sets the narrative stage for the rest of the exhibition and urges you into the space to explore further.
From the combined prints and painted surfaces of ‘Full Stop’ (2013) by Ebrel Moore, to the vitriolic monologue of the digitally colour-changing graffiti fox of ‘Reynard With A Vengeance’ (2014) by Matt Copson, works fill the entirety of the cavernous neo-classical room without ever feeling claustrophobic, revelling in the setting by combining traditional mediums with contemporary techniques and ideas of display. The overall curation of the show has clearly afforded careful consideration to the groupings of works in order to produce correlations and frictions of the serious subject matters they confront, and only seems to slow down the viewer when trying to view the abundance of the 24 video based pieces on show.
Displayed on the same make and model of monitors placed on plinths referencing classical sculpture, the somewhat high proportion of video works break up the space of the room and can be seen as a reaffirmation by the selectors and curator Kirsty Ogg to the use of the medium at a time when traditional practices are costly, and digital-based works are readily translatable to other formats and easily dispersible on a global platform.
The strength of the exhibition itself however is seemingly undercut by a number of minute details that when taken into consideration have the potential to devalue the visitor’s overall experience of the show. This included wall labels that had slipped to become lopsided, and barriers around works that were not installed properly. Although minor, the detractions serve to cause distractions from the viewing of certain works yet take very little away from the exhibition as a cohesive whole, and should be resolved in time for its second showing in London later this year.
Through embracing the artists’ collective apprehensions and conflicts with the contemporary landscape for art production New Contemporaries is able to confidently and thoughtfully act as the voice for a generation, whilst offering the opportunity to see examples of the best work by emerging practitioners in the country. Although the underlying sense of disappointment by the artists in their everyday environment is evident, it fuels their practice and allows them to further the discourse of contemporary art ready for future generations.