Jerwood Contemporary Painters
Jerwood Space, London
15 February 31 March
The Jerwood Contemporary Painters exhibition brings together the work of thirty emerging artists selected by Graham Crowley, David Rayson and Elizabeth Magill. With no unifying connection other than their selectors, this show unavoidably demonstrates a multiplicity of very diverse works.
It is at once difficult and yet also incredibly fruitful to visit an exhibition with such a melange of unrelated work. The lack of any common theme, idea, tradition or technique primarily comes across as disjointed and inarticulate, which gives the show an air of inaccessibility. However, in my opinion it is exactly this variance that leads to it being a real success. The show presents an invigorating diversity of practice only possible in an age of plurality, and as such the works unify to stimulate the debate about what painting has become and is becoming.
These thirty painters present us with sculpture, collage, video, appropriated objects, and two-dimensional works with paint. Damien Roachs stack of books titled River, trees, cloud, sky is obviously not a painting, and yet it is with painterly consideration that he has composed the colours of the spines into harmonious green and blue hues. Although not a painting itself, the work responds to the discourse of painting. Another particularly interesting piece was Parlour by Nick Fox. Fox has used acrylic paint to create a malleable skin that has been exhibited in the form of a tablecloth; at what point could this use of paint be considered as sculpture, and at what point could it be considered as painting?
As the boundaries of the visual art disciplines continue to merge into one another, it becomes increasingly interesting to ask the question of how and why we still apply such definitions. Yet as interesting as these questions are, my concern is that by putting pressure on these works to define the discourse of painting, we are missing the point of the works themselves. Do we neglect to offer the individual works the critique that they deserve?
The discourse raised by this exhibition is exhilarating and significant to the continuing dialogue of art. One must, however, question whether one comes away from the exhibition feeling invigorated by the debate rather than the work itself. In my opinion, the show comments more on painting as a genre than on the exhibits as individual pieces. It is a considerable task indeed for these emerging artists to carry such a weighty debate, and it is this pressure that unfortunately does the work no justice. If the show had been called Jerwood Contemporary Artists, perhaps one might come away with a different opinion entirely.
Anna Hales is a writer studying MA Aesthetics and Art Theory.
First published: a-n Magazine April 2007
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