Artists Ben Rivers and Rana Begum on New Contemporaries 70th anniversary show

13 September 2019
Reading Time
3 minute read

Drunken Gravity by Xiuching Tsay, courtesy the artist and New Contemporaries

Emerging artists showcase New Contemporaries celebrates its 70th anniversary with a bumper programme. As well as the annual Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition, which opens tomorrow at Leeds Art Gallery, the birthday celebrations include a two-day symposium and a new digital commission by artist Mark Leckey. The show will travel from Leeds to the South London Gallery in December.

“Our annual exhibition, which has been supported by Bloomberg since 2000, shines a spotlight on some of the UK’s most exciting artists emerging from arts education,” Kirsty Ogg, director of New Contemporaries tells It’s Nice That. “This defines a new generation who encapsulate the cultural moment – and serves as a springboard into their professional lives. In fact many well known artists such as Bruce McLean and Chantal Joffe have cited New Contemporaries as a pivotal moment for them, which led to further opportunities.”

The artists that feature in this year’s show have been selected by artist Rana Begum, curator Sonia Boyce and artist and filmmaker Ben Rivers. Talking about the process of whittling the 1500 applicants to the final group, Rivers tells It’s Nice That: “It was a long and thorough conversation to get the selection down to the final artists. We mostly agreed but not always. If someone felt passionately about an artist and could make a good argument, then there was space for allowing that person in, which meant there was no compromising of ideas to make a consensus.” Begum adds, “It was wonderful to see the energy and passion come through from the recent graduates from the different regions. New Contemporaries creates a support network amongst your peer group across the region which is vital to survive when you leave art school.”

Quizzed about whether the judges felt under pressure to find the ‘next’ Hockney or First, Rivers says: “No, thankfully that’s a horrible idea. It’s about finding strong work that is meaningful today, outside of thinking about star systems and commercial possibilities.” Begum adds, “The pressure is there to be unique, but I felt what we were looking for was the individual approach to subject, method and materials.”


Compost Daddy (2018) by Annie Mackinnon, courtesy the artist and New Contemporaries

Works by painter Xiuching Tsay particularly impressed Rivers. “They’re really wild, eye wateringly colourful, transcendental trips into some other parallel world that only exists in the painter’s mind,” he says. Taylor Jack Smith’s animation had “the appearance of something playful and cartoonish but it actually completely gets under your skin and is really unnerving”, while Annie Mackinnon’s video of her dad, wearing a pretty unusual fashion garment with loads of mud, talking resignedly to the artist, is “a perfect picture of how we as artists cajole our loved ones into all kinds of scenarios, and they take it.”

Both noted the quality and quantity of photographic and film works in this year’s submissions. “We did wonder if there was less of sculpture because of lack of affordable studio spaces, money and living expenses,” says Begum. Rivers adds, “There was also a huge amount of severed feet, but i’m not sure any actually made the final selection.”

Over the course of its 70 years New Contemporary has raised the profile of many a household name. Its alumni include Frank Auerbach, Derek Jarman, Paula Rego, Patrick Caufield, YBAs Damien Hirst and Gillian Wearing, Tacita Dean, Chris Offili, Mona Hatoum and Laure Prouvost. This year’s show runs at Leeds Art Gallery until 17 November, before relocating to South London Gallery between 6 December 2019 and 23 February 2020.


Dentin (2018) by Taylor Jack Smith, courtesy the artist and New Contemporaries


Drunken Gravity by Xiuching Tsay, courtesy the artist and New Contemporaries


Community Dance Showcase (2017) by Roland Carline, courtesy the artist and New Contemporaries


Searching for Peace (2019) by Yulia Iosilzon, courtesy the artist and New Contemporaries

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About the Author

Laura Snoad

Laura is a London-based arts journalist who has been working for It’s Nice That on a freelance basis since 2016.

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