Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2014 and Julie Verhoeven at ICA, London

The fortieth, and final Dispatch of 2014 reports from the ICA which on a dark, cold and blustery December night was absolutely hopping with energy yesterday.  For anyone crazy enough to brave the a) weather, b) crowds and c) truly awful traffic to attempt their Christmas shopping in the west end – sorry Boris, but it’s getting beyond a joke – then the ICA is easy striking distance from the madding crowds at Selfridges, or the super-luxe canyon of Bond Street.

After opening first in Liverpool earlier in the autumn, Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2014 has alighted once more at the ICA, taking up both the lower and upper galleries with an exhibition of work by 55 artists graduating this year from BA and MA courses the length and breadth of the country. Judged by a jury of artists – Goshka Macuga, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and Enrico David – the process is extraordinarily democratic in that selections are made purely on the response to the work. At the point of selection – and 1400 applications were received this year – no information is given about the artists themselves.  So it is pleasing to see that although the London colleges are well represented, this year the exhibition includes work from artists drawn from right across the UK.

While New Contemporaries has alumni that include such art stars as Mona Hatoum, Tacita Dean, Mike Nelson and Damien Hirst, it is a project that reflects more on the predilections of the selecting artists than defining emerging tendencies. The 2014 vintage is strong on performance, painting, print and drawing with relatively little sculpture and photography, but all with a clear bias towards a concern with materiality and a notably tactile quality, with many patterned and closely worked surfaces in evidence. Nearly half of the selected artists are showing moving image, and the majority of these works are all presented in the upstairs galleries. If you are happily footsore from your shopping trip, here is the place to sit, put on headphones and immerse yourself.  In contrast to the Turner Prize exhibition, which focuses quite tightly on what is often termed “post-internet” tendency work – the New Contemporaries selectors have chosen to focus largely on work that comes out of narrative or documentary traditions instead.

The pivot between the upper and lower galleries is a huge screen-printed work on the outer wall of the ICA theatre by Alice Hartley. In letters a couple of feet high the artist has painted the words We’re All Very Disappointed. This is possibly the most tellingly political statement in the show and speaks to the anxieties not only of art students but of anyone emerging from higher education into the uncertainties of the future, saddled with some impressive debts. The New Contemporaries annual exhibition is a vital endeavour to help some of these students make the transition to being a professional artist; it offers visibility in central London and some critical endorsement of their practice to encourage them to stay the course.

Inhabiting a room under the stairs to the bar that I have not seen used as exhibition space before, Julie Verhoeven has created a new installation called Whiskers Between My Legs. Do not miss it. It is a totalising, immersive work incorporating objects as well as video, with her typical sense of the carnivalesque without tipping in to the saccharine. This is work that considers the female condition and uses banal domestic objects such as toilet rolls and rubber gloves to articulate a feminist agenda in a way that recalls 1980s Linder. There is a confrontational, in-your-face use of nudity that makes me think of Sarah Lucas’ work in the early 90s, although Verhoeven’s work has a more playful quality than Lucas’ dark, laddishness. Occasionally recognisable in the video is London-based collector and well-known supporter of female artists Valeria Napoleone, who this year has also supported that other mistress of masquerade,  Marvin Gaye Chetwynd at Studio Voltaire.

Caroline Douglas

Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH. Exhibitions are open Tuesday – Sunday 11.00 – 18.00, except Thursday, 11.00 – 21.00. Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2014 continues until 25 January 2015. Julie Verhoeven: Whiskers Between My Legs continues until 18 January 2015.


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