ABC FEATURE: All the World's a Studio. ; They Live as Far and Wide as New York and Berlin, and Some Were Born Abroad Too. So How Were the Artists Selected for the Tate's New Exhibition of British Art, Asks Charlotte Mullins. and What National Characteristics Link Classical Columns, a Disco Floor and Paintings of Disenchanted Teens Anyway?
Mullins, Charlotte, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
This week sees the opening of the third Tate Triennial, this time called New British Art. Launched in 2000 when the old Tate Gallery was transformed into Tate Britain, the Triennial has come to serve as a pacemaker in the gallery's exhibition programme, bringing the latest in contemporary British art into the main galleries with a certain regularity, if not always certain praise. (The first show, Intelligence, in 2000, was poorly received, although the subsequent Triennial, Days Like These, fared much better.) Some critics have argued that in today's global society, where artists move freely around the world both physically and virtually, the very idea of a national exhibition of contemporary art is outdated. With Britain such a magnet for artists of all nationalities, why limit the art seen at these shows to that produced by British artists alone?
In a possible attempt to silence such critics, and to add as much international flavour to the Triennial as possible, Beatrix Ruf, the director of the Kunsthalle Zurich, has been appointed as the show's first non-British curator. She has put together a show of work by 35 artists - six of them profiled here to illustrate the broad range of practice - loosely structured under an umbrella theme of appropriation. This selection aims to highlight areas of particular interest to artists today, such as performance, but also attempts to dismiss any notion of nationalistic narrowness by including artists born as far a field as the Bahamas and Buenos Aires (who now live in Britain), and home-grown artists currently living and working in New York, San Francisco and Berlin. The "British" of the Triennial's title can and does refer to both these groups of artists, as well as those who were born and continue to live in Glasgow or London - two cities that now dominate the contemporary art scene -as well as elsewhere in the country.
Ruf's selection is a youthful one, with almost half the artists included born in the 1970s. As in previous Triennials, she has also chosen to balance her selection with more established artists, and has included the octogenarian Ian Hamilton Finlay, as well as several YBAs such as Angela Bulloch and Douglas Gordon. But she has also singled out artists whose work has often been neglected since its debut back in the 1970s - Marc Chamille Chaimowicz, John Stezaker, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Linder all present work in the Triennial from this period.
The photographs, collages and installations by these artists were made at a time when postmodernism was in its infancy, and artists were beginning to explore the appropriation of found imagery, the question of photographic reality and the idea of multiple histories. For the younger contemporary artists in the Triennial, these one- time avant-garde strategies have become so integrated into artistic practice that they all now use them as tools. There's an acceptance that past images can be reused and given new meanings, that memory isn't objective but subjective, that nothing is as it seems, that reality is mediated. Building on these beliefs, they recycle found images and stories to create their own works of art. Often the artist's personality or life-story is the only factor that can be used to navigate their seemingly disparate body of work, as they switch from film to sculpture to performance to painting. It is how Triennial artists such as Lucy McKenzie, Jonathan Monk, Pablo Bronstein and Michael Fullerton select these images and tales from our collective past, and what they do with them, that makes their work distinct, not the source material itself.
Ruf has selected a couple of artists previously seen in Tate Triennials - Peter Doig, Oliver Payne and Nick Relph - and a few who also have work touring in the British Art Show. But unlike the British Art Show, which seems thematically muddled and top-heavy with video and film, Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art feels, on paper at least, coherent, interesting, and the perfect entry point to explore this rich seam of appropriation in contemporary art practice. …