Organised every 5 years, the British Art Show is one of England’s most influential and ambitious survey exhibitions on the national contemporary art scene. Oddly enough it didn’t tour to the capital in the past 21 years so, when it was announced that the Hayward Gallery would host this new edition – already being hailed as the most splendid and successful one so far–, Londoners were pleasantly surprised.
Milena Dragicevic, Supplicant 13
After its debut at Nottingham Contemporary, the BAS7 arrived to London last week and off we went to assess with our very own eyes and ears if all the big words were deserved. And, truth be told, it is an extraordinary show. The 39-artist roster offers several known names like Sarah Lucas, Wolfgang Tillmans or Christian Marclay (who shows again his wonderful 24-hour video opus 'The Clock’ after its huge success at White Cube gallery last autumn). Younger artist that have been harvesting shows in important institutions and galleries in the past couple of years are also featured here with outstanding works. The ones we were particularly interested in were Nathaniel Mellors, Duncan Campbell, Luke Fowler, Emily Wardill and Elizabeth Price. All of them work within the expanded field of moving image but their practices differ notably and thus become a clear token of the varied artistic landscape England currently offers: from the critical satire of Mellors to the understated exploration of image, sound and space of Luke Fowler or the intriguing subjective documentaries of Campbell.
Still from Christian Marclay's 'The Clock'
The two main surprises for this humble writer came from two female painters: Milena Dragicevic and Phoebe Unwin, very different in pictorial approaches and techniques but both very moving with an extraordinary use of colour. These artists and Michel Fullerton are the living proofs that painting is not just the easiest medium to sell in a gallery but still an incredibly exciting and poignant endeavour both as an artist and a viewer.
Artists like the fantastic David Noonan, Haroon Mirza or Roger Hiorns (who was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2009) are also present and displaying the talents that have got them where they are today. But name dropping doesn’t do justice to this unpretentious and ambitious show that achieves all it is meant to do without any boring or sensationalistic stuff. And that is saying a lot.
Until the 17th the of April at the Hayward Gallery.