Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Artforum's Citic's Pick: New British Painting

Curated by Zavier Ellis & Pilvi Kalhama

Mannerheimintie 5 B, 5th floor
Helsinki, Finland
May 21–August 8
There are different kinds of newness. Among them is the paradigmatic newness of something taking place for the first time, or of something that rewrites history. But there is also the newness that appears new only because it goes against whatever immediately preceded it.

“New British Painting,” an exhibition curated by Zavier Ellis and Pilvi Kalhama, belongs to the latter category. The six artists participating here share a denial of many of the values characteristic of the works of the YBAs and their contemporaries: a theoretical or conceptual foundation, large scale, and the cult of the artist as celebrity. But instead of giving us a new idea of painting, these recent pieces look back and draw their inspiration from the styles and works of artists who are older or half-forgotten. What contemporary audience thinks about the fetishistic work of Allen Jones, or eighteenth-century French Rococo? These are what first spring to mind on looking at the works of Gavin Tremlett. Perhaps the main difference is the androgynous nature of Tremlett’s nude models.

Most of the works are figurative, modest, and even miniature in scale, and many have the feel of traditional easel paintings. While there are obvious visual pleasures and even humor in Dominic Shepherd’s psychedelic fantasies, the most compelling examples in this exhibition are undoubtedly Sam Jackson’s earth-toned panels, melancholy working-class portraits with their roots in the grand traditions of Bacon and Freud.

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