Art graduate exhibitions are hot, and Charles Saatchi is partly to blame. Twenty years of him going around, snapping up so-and-so's entire degree show helped create the myths 1) that artists could be fully developed stars straight out of art schools, and 2) that collectors could make a packet investing in fledgling Damien Hirsts. Student shows are now seen as untapped goldmines, and the standardization of graduates' work is a direct result. These days, final year presentations are often more ready-to-hang displays than works-in-progress.
New Contemporaries — which has just opened at London's ICA and runs through January 15, and is billed as opening "a window onto the future of contemporary art" — doesn't entirely escape that feeling, but most of the pieces presented by the 40 recent graduates have a depth that goes beyond the grab-me-while-you-can-afford-it. This might have to do with the selection process: the submissions of artists no more than one year out of art school are cherry-picked by a jury of more established artists, this year Pablo Bronstein, Sarah Jones, and Michael Raedecker. New Contemporaries nominees are thus artists' artists, potential peers rather than potentially good investments — though the two do sometimes coincide. (Previous New Contemporaries participants include David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, and the Chapman Brothers.)
So, who should we be looking at in this year's selection? Here are ARTINFO UK's suggestions.
Marie Angeletti (MA in Photography, Royal College of Art, 2011)
Angeletti's photographs catalogue the possibilities of the medium without ever really settling on one. Still lifes, pictures of quaint engravings, and abstractions, are all part of her multisided exploration of image-making. But for all their diversity, her always tightly composed arrangements of objects, forms, and colours have an unmistakable coherence — a sign of Angeletti's perfect command of her tool. She is the recipient of this year's Photographers' Gallery Award.
Leah Capaldi (MA in Sculpture, Royal College of Art, 2010)
At the New Contemporaries private view, the ICA stank as if a punter had poured an entire bottle of sickly sweet perfume on herself — which is exactly what the performer enacting Capaldi's 2011 piece "Allure" did. Smell used as a medium is a rarity, and yet, as Capaldi's performance demonstrates, it is fantastically loaded: socially, sexually, physically. The artist is the heiress of a long dynasty of performance artists. But her discrete interventions — a participant lying under a carpet for the duration of an opening, or the artist herself wearing cast bronze high heels, or in a red thong, her head buried in a chocolate cake — probe at body politics with a humour often lacking in the work of her predecessors.
Poppy Whatmore (Currently studying for an MFA in Sculpture, Slade School of Fine Art)
Whatmore unleashes furniture's sculptural potential. She bypasses chairs and tables' obvious functions to consider them as a rich repertoire of shapes and forms. In "Cocked Leg" (2009) the corner of a standard table is hinged, allowing a leg to stick up, dog-pissing style. Hanging on the wall, "Flatpack" (2011) mocks the ubiquitous Ikea lifestyle with the flat version of a modernist chair, which forms a pattern redolent of Mondrian's grids.
Sophie Neury (MA in Fine Art, Edinburgh College of Art, 2011)
Responding to the oh-so-topical London 2012 Olympic Games, Neury's latest series of sculptures and photographs, titled "De Arte Gymnastica" (2011), is an alluring collection of semi-abstract compositions. The precise framing of her pictures turns mattresses, swimming pools, and trampolines into complexly arranged pictorial planes — and yet these objects were shot as they were found, in local gymnasia, the training grounds of the common man. Everyday anthropology meets formalist abstraction.