RSA: New Contemporaries

Royal Scottish Academy, Until 31st March

Calling a show New Contemporaries might be taken to be a slight contradiction in terms, but the show truly does seem to be an expression of new art. Without any clear theme or unifying element, it would be easy to feel lost in this amalgamation of contemporary art, but somehow this huge collection of wildly different styles feels right at home in the grand neoclassicism of the Royal Academy exhibition space.

The annual exhibition displays the work of Scotland’s emerging artists and architects. Fresh out of their graduate degree shows, New Contemporaries gives 61 young artists the opportunity to showcase a selection of work. Having various pieces by each artist is no bad thing, as it allows the visitor much more of an insight into the artist’s intentions and their individual style than a more concentrated show may have done. You would in fact be hard pressed to find a show less concentrated than New Contemporaries.

The exhibition occupies all 13 of the RSA’s galleries, with a new artist or style everywhere you turn. Every form of art is explored – painting, sculpture, and photography – in every possible style. While it may seem confusing, and at times you may find yourself a little lost, New Contemporaries is achieving exactly what it set out to do: energising and exciting the Scottish art market.

Perhaps placing a hulking abstract sculpture in front of a series of painstaking photorealist paintings may seem incongruous, but is that not the essence of contemporary art? And would it not be disappointing if an exhibition setting out to display the finest young Scottish artists filled 13 galleries with solely one thing? And so one can forgive New Contemporaries its lack of cohesion because, if anything, it is simply confirming that new art and young artists are flourishing.

The one hint at a theme for New Contemporaries was the idea of referencing and overturning the traditions of art. With this concept, one artist stood out for his self-referential satire on the nature of artistry and the social standing of the artist. Alan Trashmouth Records, an Edinburgh College of Art graduate who sold his name for £200 in 2015, produced a series which printed famous masterpieces (Hockney’s ‘A Bigger Splash’ and Monet’s Water ‘Lily Pond’) onto toilet seats.

This is, I think, what truly makes this show special. It is, at its heart, a presentation of what Scottish artists have to give in the future, and if this is so then I think the future looks bright.

Image: David Hockney

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