Curatorial Talk: British Contemporary Art


What is it about the British – why are they so good at culture – theatre and pop music and art? Is it due to the tension of tradition and pageantry constantly pushing up against anarchy and rock n roll irreverence?

British contemporary art is some of the most exciting and innovative art being produced today. From painters to sculptors to photographers, British artists are constantly pushing the boundaries of what art can be. You are all probably all familiar with Tracey Emin’s unmade bed (My Bed) and Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living). Well deserving of their place in the history of art – and of course what they did for the UK art scene – but there is only so many times you can appeal to the same audience with the shock of the new.

This vibrant art scene is reflective of the diverse and dynamic culture of Britain itself. There is something for everyone to enjoy in British contemporary art. And with new artists emerging all the time, the future of British art looks brighter than ever.

The YBAs including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Chris Ofili, Marc Quinn, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Mark Wallinger, and Rachel Whiteread had this great system to rail against and took postmodernism and the age of mechanical studio based art to new and often filthy heights. You could say they sort of peaked with Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull. Apart from being nothing new and a rip off of Alexander McQueen – it signalled the tragic end of their era. The YBA’s are now the BAs.

Interestingly Hirst has now set up his own gallery and opened with the late and largely overlooked painter John Hoyland. An abstract artist of great intensity who used color and form to charge his paintings so that they were self-sufficient. In other words they required no explanation, no instructions, but simply ignite visual, mental and emotional stimulation through his natural ability to create an internal dialogue through colour, scale and abstract form… He had an innate understanding of Braques maxim “Sensation, Revelation!”.

All the evidence to understand the concepts behind the work are contained within the work. Today a whole new generation of artists – trained in schools where they actually teach painting and life drawing again – are reaching back to the roots of modernism to find their own way. They are making materials like oil, clay, film and even cyanotypes relevant again. Think of Grayson Perry’s pots or Rose Wylie’s refreshingly naive paintings, Annie Kevans portraits and Anne Hardy or Bridget Smiths photographs and cyanotypes of empty or forgotten places.

Importantly there is a strong voice for women today in the British Contemporary art scene from Fiona Banner to Cornelia Parker. There is so much to choose from!

Nico Kos Earle Shares Her Expertise

Arts writer, curator and art consultant, Nico Kos Earle will discuss the all-female artists curated for the Art Bastion booth at Art Southampton in relation to the current status of British Contemporary Art.

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Nico Kos Earle

Arts writer, curator and art consultant, Nico Kos Earle is a member of the Critics Circle, has a blog on Artlyst called The Artist’s Statement.
In addition to curating shows (, Sense of Place) she...

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