The line stretched down the Brixton Road for Friday night’s (26 January) opening of the London leg of Bloomberg New Contemporaries, an annual open submission show of carefully selected rising artistic talents. This year the not-for-profit organisation has made the move from its usual London home at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) to Block 336, an artist-run project space at 336 Brixton Road, South London.
The Brutalist concrete spaces of 336 are a dramatic contrast to the Georgian graciousness of the ICA which has hosted the New Contemporaries for the past few years. But while the south of the river location may be inconvenient for some, the move to the rough-edged 336 was certainly not deterring the crowds. The new location was widely deemed as being more appropriate to the ethos of this prestigious show which since 1949 has provided a crucial early showcase for current and recent UK art school graduates.
“South London is a good place because it is where more artists can still manage to live—so there’s a direct link with the production of art and the art schools,” says Sacha Craddock, the chair of New Contemporaries. “Being here means there’s less of a split between the production and the exhibiting of art—its seamless.”
The New Contemporaries alumni list reads like a who’s who of British art—from David Hockney to Damien Hirst, along with Tacita Dean, Mark Leckey and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, to name but a few. And this year’s trio of artist-judges—George Shaw (who was selected for the New Contemporaries in 1998), the 2012 Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price, and Caroline Achaintre—have picked an especially strong lineup of 47 artists from art schools across the UK.
The move South was christened with a new pale ale specially created for the occasion by the local Brixton Brewery (with a stylish “Block 336 Pale” label designed by the designers Post). Following the private view there was a mass exodus to the nearby Crown and Anchor pub for more imbibing and a performance by one of the exhibiting artists, Gabriella Hirst, who sang soulful songs whilst wearing an illuminated juke box costume. All in all a very different experience to uptown on the Mall…