Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Best in Show

Posted in Reviews by va801km on November 20, 2008



Best in Show

( John Jones Project Space, 3rd – 31st October 2008)


What do an ass, a pyramid and a single-keyed piano have in common?


They were all to be found above a framing workshop in Finsbury Park during October, a group exhibition of 23 recent graduates’ work.  ‘Twenty years on from Freeze, Goldsmiths graduates Pearce and Ramsay place themselves and their peers as the successors to the YBA ‘do it yourself’ generation.’ So went the listings.


‘One’ by Tom Badley, an incredible piece of craftsmanship, conjured the spectres of Magritte and Dali; funereal and absurdly humorous, it also suggested a closing down of possibilities, a limitation of expression.  The ass dug its hooves into a pile of soil in an effort to resist the pull of its harness.  The pyramid was badly covered in what looked like Fablon and sat imperviously in a corner; there was a blank space where its title would have been on the works list.  This muteness was echoed in a piece by Olivia Pilling which turned a portable TV set into a piece of lacquer-work, screen and all.


There was a lot of video work, mostly on portable TVs on plinths, a problematic display mechanism probably more to do with budget than curatorial preference.  Giles Ripley re-staged cinematic scenarios with his own painted and be-wigged hand as co-star; Malcolm Gauldie told uncomfortable and morally ambiguous jokes to an unresponsive audience; in Nico Weber’s ‘Lido’ a lone protagonist echoed moves of diving and synchronized swimming, in a deserted public toilet. 


Ruth Angel Edwards’ painting ‘Side by side we exist as potential, let us leap into the arms of the future together’ depicted a group of students posing like a band for a promo shot, looking into the middle distance with expressions of romantic inspiration.  It trod a fine line between cringeworthiness and irony.  The title and the subject matter were hand-in-glove with the show’s theme, but considering how ubiquitous it could have looked in many a graduate show of 1988, and how odd it seemed here, it created a strange reversal.


Viewers searching for a zeitgeist in new British art might have identified a spirit of stubborn resistance, a revived interest in process or a self-conscious exploration of performativity.  This did not reflect the DIY efforts of a group of artists setting out to alter the art map, though.  There was no sense of collective energy or purpose; Pearce & Ramsay ‘did it themselves’, for sure, demonstrating an eye for potential, but the impetus seemed quite different. The leaflet ‘essay’ and rosettes on the marketing material were clues to an ironic but ambiguous relationship with what came to be seen as the YBA attitude.  In fact they carried out a canny ‘PR’ exercise for themselves, with their P&R branding and their names all over the listings; maybe this is where the real Freeze legacy lies. That said, it will be interesting to see which of their hot tips go on to stellar careers, as the show argued persuasively that some of them will.


Image: ‘One’ by Tom Badley ©


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