Numerous like-coloured works by 38 ‘young British artists’ have been crammed into Limoncello’s modest gallery space by artist-curator Ryan Gander. This is either a violent act of mass-instrumentalisation by the artist, or an unashamedly personal endorsement of new talent. With such an astute practitioner as Gander, this kind of perplexity often leads to reward, and while the majority of these artworks warrant independent merit, it is the to-ing and fro-ing between unlikely positions that gives this exhibition legs.
Problematic at every step, yet continually returning us to the strong examples of practice on show, Gander’s economical curatorial conceit—works realised in black and white by ‘exceptionally talented individuals’—makes great strides.
Artist Alex Farrar has carpeted the gallery with plush white carpet, transforming it into a 1960s monochrome showroom. Introducing a dedication to design—in Farrar’s case, interior design—the greying runner forewarns other artists’ leanings towards simulations of the discipline. Similarly homely are Matt Golden’s tray and roller sets, ‘Paint Tray, Black on Black’, and ‘Paint Tray, White on Black’, both 2005, Ed Cotterill’s strips of wallpaper, ‘The Art of Interior Design (grey)’, 2011, and Steven Emmanuel’s ‘Misery waits in a big hotel’, 2011, that comprises a drawing of a disposable backing sheet from an Ikea frame. Performing in-jokey games with a legacy of a design history (minimalism, to be precise), while transforming the gallery into a place that is happily wary of its own purpose, these collected works echo Gander’s own artistic practice.
Performing subtle manipulations of design techniques by turning to the decorative arts are Richard Healy and Max Hymes. The latter’s meticulously crafted ‘Fan with Ferns’, 2008, is made up of obsessively adorning a small vase, with flora and fauna painted onto walnut—a concentration on making yoked to opulent ideas of antiquity and objecthood. Meanwhile, Healy’s understated mouth-blown glass ‘Offset (Study in White)’, 2011, similarly forms a vase for a lily. An artists enraptured by minimalism’s quixotic search for new possibilities for the object (which also extends to a longing continued by minimal design), Healy exhibits an interest in the exhaustion of form and intelligently brings together design pragmatics with conceptual play. Turning to architectural techniques, his small, pale resin model ‘Hegemon Object’, 2009, forms a Pantheon-like structure with a strange geometric extension. A hybrid of classical architecture and the geometry of 20th century modernism, the work emphasises the fine fusion of form and concept that comes to characterise much of what Gander appears to call ‘young British art’.
A fan of unlikely collisions, it is unsurprising that Gander has selected artists whose works reference visual puns and wordplay. Golden’s found photograph ‘Looking at a Scottish Lake, Dreaming of Mount Fuji’, 2008, in which fluffs of clouds form a peak reminiscent of Fuiji’s snowy crest, has been placed in direct relation to Simon Davenport’s ‘Caald’, 2011, a photograph in which a small molehill-like mound is made ot look like a mountain. Elsewhere, The Hut Project, known for their playful interventions, present the dead-pan piece ‘Conceptual Beard’, 2011, a fake appendage that sits well with Richard Bevan’s similarly shaped and similarly dry vinyl work ‘Triangles’, 2011.
It is unclear who has the last laugh with Alice Browne’s three oil paintings, the only works in which colour—pale purples and blues—can be seen through strokes of white and black. The paintings have been reworked for this occasion, so who is toying with who? Is Browne criticising the futility of Gander’s schema, or is the curator laying bare the ease with which he can goad these artists to dance to his tune?
Gander’s decision to collate the works in this exhibition by colour alone—a conceit that one couldn’t imagine washing so well with a curator who wasn’t also a practicing artist—is knowingly undercut in this show, and misnomers abound. From the title, an unlikely approximation of the Saatchi-ism, to the inclusion of decidedly old British art (Giorgio Sadotti’s Fifty Truths (THE TRUE ARTIST DOES NOT ALWAYS THINK) (sic)’, 1963, it’s clear that the curator knows what he is up to. The equation of ‘young’ art with early career practitioners and the value of their work is further compromised by the inclusion of a sculpture by grande dame Phyllida Barlow, as well as Simon Fujiwara’s presumably pricey ‘My Name on a Grain of Rice’, 2011.
Admittedly, pontificating over questions of the artist–curator’s intentions and success only leads to a greater consideration of the works on show, for other than his seemingly candid exhibition design, Gander leaves little trace. Should the parameters by which Young British Art be judged fall upon its ability to showcase work by circuitous means, it’s a job well done.
Rosalie Dubal is a writer and curator based in London