In a space filled with beautiful people indulging on foie gras canapés and strawberry cocktails someone silenced the audience to announce the winners of the Catlin Art Prize 2012. I couldn’t help but suppress the feeling that the culinary extravagance was in slight contradiction with the introductory text in the exhibition catalogue, in which Paul Carey-Kent aptly writes that the main downside for recently graduated artists is the current state of the economy – and that only a minority of practising artists can make a living solely by making art.
Steven Catlin, the friendly looking, fully suited man who owns the company behind the prize, announced the winners. He addressed the crowd and said -- unashamedly -- that both he and his colleagues would probably struggle to understand anything about the meaning behind the works on display but that he immensely appreciated the effort that went into creating them and that he believed ‘that all of the artists in the show would make it far in life, whether they won tonight or not.’ He further added that if the winner didn’t want the £2000 prize money he would happily take it home himself. That last bit, I believe, was meant as a joke.
Julia Vogl, 'Let's Hang Out', Carpet tiles, vinyl, Velcro ; Photo ©2012 Peter Hope
Apart from this patronising we-will-take-care-of-the-poor-artists attitude the Catlin Art Prize has a lot going for it. Yes, it’s funded by a bunch of ‘specialty property casuality insurers’ – read: business men – but the people working for them know what they’re talking about and at the end of the day, they do help realise the ambitions of new artists by giving them a platform, visibility, and – alright, only two of them – some hard cash.
Justin Hammond, the exhibition curator and his assistants put some real blood, sweat and tears into selecting the artists – visiting nearly all of the UK graduate shows – and the result is a broad, exciting and visually enticing selection of new work. Aside from winners Julia Vogl (whose work remarkably makes a political comment about public spending) and Adeline de Monseignat (winner of the public vote prize), I developed a small crush on the following three:
Ali Kazim, 'Untitled (Heart)', Human hair, hair spray, display case, shelf; Photo ©2012 Peter Hope
Ali Kazim. His incredibly detailed and unbelievably life-like self-portraits, executed in a humble pigment on paper express a sense of understated talent and solid skill rarely found in artists these days. His sculptures made out of human hair are extremely delicate and intricate and look like they require the patience of an entire Buddhist monastery to produce.
Jonny Briggs. His brilliantly twisted photographs explore the relationship between parent and child. Using casts of his parents’ heads as masks, Briggs’ work re-evaluates the psychological boundaries between adults and children, and the inevitability of, to a certain extent, becoming what our parents are.
Soheila Sokhanvari, 'TPAJAX', Taxidermy, jesmonite, car paint; Photo ©2012 Peter Hope
Soheila Sokhanvari. Although using taxidermied animals in art is a bit like using foraged herbs on MasterChef (you can only do it so many times before it bores the main guys), Sokhanvari’s work is both politically charged and aesthetically challenging. Her work on display at the Art Prize – a horse lying on its back holding a huge, partially deflated red balloon, is one of the main eye-catchers in the show.
Overall, the exhibition breathed vitality and a great sense of artistic freedom, which seemed unaffected (or perhaps fuelled by) the limited financial prospects available to these creatives. So yes, great show, but I stayed away from the foie-gras.
(Image on top right: Adeline de Monseignat, Mother HEB Loleta, Vintage fur, pillow filler,glass, motor, wood, sand; Photo © 2012 Peter Hope)