Please choose me, Mr Saatchi

Being selected for the annual Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition can be the first step on the road to Damien Hirst-style fame and fortune for a young artist — as these three hopefuls are already finding out


By Charlotte Appleyard, November 26, 2009
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Rinat Kotler at this year’s exhibition.

Rinat Kotler at this year’s exhibition.

One day earlier this month Charles Saatchi and Anita Zabludowicz found themselves together in a room in East London, searching for the new Damien Hirst. The two hugely influential art collectors were attending the opening day of Bloomberg New Contemporaries, an annual exhibition which, for the past 60 years, has been showcasing the kind of young talent that goes on to make it big in the art world.

The show is open to final-year undergraduates and current postgraduates at UK art colleges, with more than 1,000 students submitting work each year in the hope of making the final selection. The judges, this year, are a group of respected international artists; Ellen Gallagher, Wolfgang Tillmans, Saskia Olde Wolbers and John Stezaker.

The show has proved instrumental in the careers of young Jewish artists with one former participant, sculptor Daniel Silver, going on to exhibit all over the world. This year, two Jewish artists, both Israeli, feature among the 47 finalists; one a young film-maker, the other a meticulous draughtsman.

Amir Chasson studied design in Tel Aviv before coming to Goldsmiths College to pursue a masters in Fine Art. His work Pisspants is a large-scale drawing depicting a man falling backwards, away from the viewer, his face obscured but his soaked groin and jeans are thrust into the audience’s face. Chasson says he is “trying to understand what brings a person to this situation — when they loose control of their bodily functions”.

He looks to multiple sources for stimulation, everything from medieval prints to Anish Kapoor — whose current show at the Royal Academy proved a real inspiration. “Kapoor is completely different to my work,” says Chasson, “but it’s also simultaneously political and traumatic.”

He concedes that his birthplace has an impact on the way his work is perceived and on his own creative process. “In Israel one cannot avoid the political situation and so it provides an overpowering context for the art. In London, the context of art making is art making. You cannot afford that luxury in Israel,” he says.

Rinat Kotler’s film Everybody Wants to Live presents us with three “performers” reciting lines loosely based on a play by Israeli dramatist Hanoch Levin. All three are filmed inside elevators in a building in Ramat-Gan. As the characters, one woman and two men, say their words, the elevators move randomly up and down, constantly altering the perspective on the landscape behind them. Kotler underlines that the performers are not actors. “Two of them forgot the lines right away and so I had to prompt them. I had to shoot 10 hours of footage to get this seven-minute film.”

Amir Chasson

Amir Chasson

Despite the fictional subject matter the piece feels like a documentary — Kotler says she enjoys this aspect of the work: “Documentary provides a small moment where the subject is somewhere between reality and fiction.”

Speaking for the judging panel, Saskia Olde Wolbers said that it was that “feeling of uncertainty” — not knowing if the viewer was watching a fictional or true account — that made Everybody Wants to Live so appealing.

Kotler is a veteran of New Contemporaries, having been selected for the exhibition once before. Like Chasson, she points out that it is very difficult for Israeli artists to separate their work from its origin. Both acknowledge that even by making a work that is intentionally apolitical they are making a political statement, and that outside of Israel, their work is always viewed through a “political lens”. Neither seems too concerned however — they understand that viewers will always bring their own interpretations to each piece.

Daniel Silver is a young sculptor who lives and trained in London. He has exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery and at the Haifa Museum of Art having appeared in New Contemporaries in 2001. It was, he says, an extremely positive experience. “Every art student in the country applies for it because they know that curators and gallerists will go to the exhibition. It puts you in the system. I got several group shows and my first solo show out of it.

“It’s very tough to graduate as an artist — graduating in any other profession you can get a job. There are so many things you have to consider when deciding to take that career track. New Contemporaries really helps — a lot of artists would disappear without it.”

Bloomberg New Contemporaries is at A Foundation, Club Row, London E2 until December 20. Details at www.newcontemporaries.org.uk

Collector’s boost for new artists

Jewish art collector and cultural philanthropist Anita Zabludowicz (right) launched a new prize for graduating art students this week. The award — won by video artist Cindie Cheung on Tuesday night — is to become a yearly event to coincide with Future Map, an annual exhibition of works by graduating students from the University of the Arts, an umbrella organisation that incorporates many of London’s creative colleges. Zabludowicz’s passion is collecting and nurturing young artists. She has a project space and gallery in Chalk Farm called 176, used to display her eclectic collection and foster relationships between young artists and curators. She feels that the prize, worth £3,000, will go some way to supporting graduating arts students at a crucial time both creatively and financially. “The first two to three years after graduation it is very hard for young artists to get established and even survive,” she says.

“If they’re lucky a gallery might decide to work with them but many of these artists don’t even get a chance to be seen.”

She hopes the winners will get the all-important exposure that sparks the interest of dealers, curators and collectors.

Pete and Repeat: Works from the Zabludowicz Collection until December 13. www.projectspace176.com

    Last updated: 11:14am, November 26 2009