New Contemporaries 2008

Queen by Naiomi St. Clair Clarke

The Unconscious Significance of Hair: Queen by Naomi St. Clair Clarke

New Contemporaries is a student/emerging artist based exhibition based in London. Having been featured in Time Out London and with my super fondness for the student artist, I wanted to check it out. Of course, like anything in London its really hard to find. Only two blocks away I find myself asking a gentleman if he’s heard of Club Row Street. Nope, of course not. Finally finding the street, I still can’t find the venue. If I hadn’t noticed the lovely neon sign placed within a courtyard behind semi-closed gates, I would never have found it. However, I was so pleased with the exhibit that I actually bought the catalogue!

Let me premis the rest of this post with reasons for my fondness of student art. This comes from growing up in a location where there were only three visual art options. The Butler Art museum (and their little side museums), the McDonough Museum and some coffeehouse art. I’ve been visiting the Butler for as long as I can remember – my mother would feel guilty using their free parking to have lunch with my dad, so we’d all have to go inside the museum to make her feel better. The Butler is your traditional gallery of portraits and landscapes, not the edgy contemporary art that I seek. McDonough is the student art museum across the street and I’m love with it. What I love is that student art requires risk. You are obligated to try something new, to explore, to transform, to grow, to extend outside the expected. Sometimes this is successful and sometimes not so much. However, I still get McDonough posters for Christmas (I use to collect them – taping them all over my walls) and working in a student based gallery has been my career goal since I randomly pointed to the ad for the McDonough museum curator position in the newspaper when I was in middle school.  I just love student art – it gives me hope.

So New Contemporaries – like any art there was some great stuff and some not so great stuff. No photos were allowed, so I was excited to find the picture above online. Its a giant hair sculpture! Really! What I like about this piece is that its innovate while remaining totally old school. Hair sculptures are nothing new, but never have they been exaggerated into this sort of monument. Just playful, whimsical and fun. Joe Doldon also had a great floor installation. In the book its a corrugated cardboard construction that is formatted like a mosaic rose window – however for purposes of the show, he’s created an installation of packing tape in waves across the floor. Also enjoyable.

Another fantastic piece was done by Patricia Pinsker entitled “Davey”. So imagine with me a video to compete with my love Herzog’s How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck if a Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood. Its different, I give you that. Film opens with a mustached white man dressed in full out native american garb – total headdress and fringed deerskin look. Somethings strange in that he’s clearly not native american and watch for the hand tattoos. The musical overlay begins and its Elvis’s American Trilogy!  “Look away, look away, look away dixieland….” and Davey (our non native actor) begins to sign not sing but sign the lyrics! Its amazing camera work with the perfect closeups for effect. The power of the piece is just phenomenal! Here we have a non-native american who is performing to Elvis being nostalgic about his homeland of Dixieland and the silent performance of the “native american” figure. Just so well conceived and carried out! Absolutely love the irony.

And last but not least we come to my all time favorite of the exhibit. At number one we have littlewhitehead’s It Happened in the Corner. See image below. Now a visual image or my explanation just doesnt do justice to the piece. Really just doesnt. But let me do the best that I can. You’re walking through an art gallery and you’re looking around. From the far side of the room you see people kind of clustered in a corner looking down at something – possibly on the floor or on a pedestal. They’re all really still and you wonder what the heck they’re looking at that is so intricate and keeps their attention for so long. I figured it was a video piece myself, so you keep one eye on the group of people as you cautiously check out something near by – ready to jump in on your turn but not close enough to feel threatening. I mean the people are packed really tightly together and I’m sure the ones in the back can barely see in the first place. It may only take a few seconds for all of these thoughts and actions to run through your head. Maybe 10 seconds max but 10 seconds is a lot of time. And then you have it – you’ve been tricked. These people aren’t moving. They’re not people. They aren’t looking at some piece, they are the piece. And then you get the label “It happened in the corner” and you’re totally impressed. Wax figures dressed in real clothing, looking fantastically alive because you immediately think that they have to be real people. Playing with our subconscious now aren’t you littlewhitehead? so without further delay here’s the pic:

It Happened in the Corner by Littlewhitehead

It Happened in the Corner by Littlewhitehead

Impressive, right? Overall some really great art! And also a fantastic wall label system which I’m currently looking into. Uses plastic business card holders to mount business card sized paper labels to the wall, reducing the use of foam board, matboard or other wastefulness! Having never seen it in the US, maybe the display system will make an appearance in this small girl’s next gallery adventure!

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