Sara Jaspan reviews ‘The Manchester Contemporary’ from an alternative perspective, and highlights some of her favourite galleries…
‘The Manchester Contemporary 2014’
Let’s be honest. At the age of less than 25 and in a low paid job, would you visit a highbrow commercial art fair? Unless you have some masochistic tendency, it seems unlikely. The very term ‘affordable’ exemplifies to what degree semantics lie in the eye of the beholder. And yet we visit, enjoy and return to The Manchester Contemporary each year.
Why? Because when else do you get to see such an array of critically engaged, exciting new work from around the country gathered in one place – that isn’t London?
But in case you missed it, here’s my own selection of highlights from the show (almost as good, and also in one place):
SYSON Gallery (Nottingham)
If you find yourself in Nottingham for a day, SYSON gallery should be top of the list of places to visit (take note: this is a valuable tip from a born-and-bred local). Housed in a toppling four-story building, the space has played host to regular artists’ talks and Reading Room discussions alongside an excellently curated programme of exhibitions and new commissions for over a year now.
Though the muted tones could not be described as ‘eye-catching’, what stood out most from the SYSON stand was the work of Russian-born, Nottingham based artist, Yelena Popova, whose three oil on canvas works (all Untitled, 2014) held a quiet but weighty presence.
Sucking you into a strangely alone, contemplative space, Popova explores the concept of visibility. Her paintings register something familiar and recognisable, though you’d be pushed to say what. The experience is reminiscent of the stage before wakefulness, where substance still lies heavy yet precise meaning eludes you. Or when you close your eyes after looking into bright light: the shapes and colours of objects leaving a clear but rapidly fading trace.
S1 Artspace (Sheffield)
Jessica Warboys’ work is equally focused on colour as a tool for expression.
Her limited edition screen print (signed and numbered) entitled No more Summer of incompletion (2012) seemed to command the greatest amount of attention at the S1 Artspace stand this year, despite appearing alongside the work of far better known artists including Haroon Mirza, Luke Fowler and Ryan Gander. Its simple, unassuming quality quietly held its own with an unavoidable appeal.
Though her paintings have been likened to Turners or Friedrichs, for me, No more Summer was more reminiscent of the work of Patrick Heron and other St Ives artists, partnering materials with elements, and nourished by sea, sun and light. The piece has a fresh, slightly salty flavour.
Eastside Projects (Birmingham)
Then, tucked around a corner, sat Bill Drummond quietly knitting, surrounded by satisfyingly large pots of poster paint. Behind him was a wall of hand-painted signs, uniform in size and typeface (Trade Gothic Bold Condensed); baffling in the array of messages they displayed.
We are told that these are scale models of larger works which serve as markers, signposts or advertisements for jobs Drummond has carried out across Birmingham in the past few months (have a look). They form part of ‘The 25 Paintings’: the twenty-fifth exhibition to be held by Eastside Projects, described as: ‘an epic sculpture, 25 years in the making and the culmination of the life’s work of Bill Drummond, artist, legendary music maker and infamous myth maker.’ To purchase one (at the bargain price of £5,000 each) is your chance to own work by one of ‘THE British artists of the last three decades’, an official ‘N O T I C E’ helpfully states.
With Bill in his cardigan, legs crossed, paintbrush in hand, casually chatting to every passer-by; a nice irony of context could not go unnoticed, adding a touch of humour to everything going on around.
Now, best start saving for next year!
© Sara Jaspan, October 2014