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Young and hung
part of Revolver, Penzance, 6th - 13th November
In between the flamboyance and excitement of the other Revolver exhibitions was a cool and understated show that had its own distinct character.
Mostly casual, off-the-cuff and effortless, many of the contributions to ‘Young and hung’ (the title surely a joke within a joke) reminded us that, like 70s works by e.g. Baldessari and Wegman, conceptual art often works best when its funny.
Art in this mould frequently has a darker side too, with tragedy and desperation lurking close by. Take for example the letter to Simon Jaques from his grandmother that reveals her intense disappointment at his choice of career (right), or a sculpture by Gino Saccone that hadn’t been made so it could only be depicted as an outline on the floor (below left).
Other works also provided a telling critique of the problem with traditional artistic ideas of craftsmanship and expressionism. Called ‘The Joy of Sex’, Jonty Lees’ beard shaved off and stuck on a piece of paper was, like the letter, a hugely honest, witty and direct an expression of ‘self’, that seemed to say something important about manliness and its changing definitions through the generations (below).
The ingenuity, and conceptual virtuosity of Simon Jaques’ mountain of stapled postcards (below right), themselves depicting a work shown earlier in Revolver, was more captivating than the craftsmanship, even though this was impressive, whilst the impeccable finish of Sarah Holmes ‘Hook’ gave it an impenetrable and enigmatic quality.
Other highlights included and Becky Kidson's video of a mirror-ball and Lucy Willow’s ‘Vanitas’, a worthy follow-up to her dust rugs. Both works shared a related kind of gothic grandeur.
All the artists showing knew each other from studying at Falmouth, and nearly all had subsequently gone to London for MAs. Its not surprising the show therefore felt like an artist-led show in London, and this is probably what gave it its attitude, as well as its knowingness.
There were, for example, references a-plenty to contemporary international art: George Young’s inventive array of paintings on paper being reminiscent perhaps of Elizabeth Peyton or Karen Kilimnik.
Knowingness can verge on cynicism, however, and to some, 'coolness' may be seen as lack of commitment. To others, however, an exhibition like this can show up other art as over-earnest or trying too hard: the blankness or apparent lack of expression describing a kind of nihilistic doubt that feeds off more traditional practice, by being a reaction to it.
Conceptual art emerged in the States as a critique of what was perceived as the indulgence and excesses of 50s abstract painting. Probably because second and third generation St Ives artists aligned themselves with the latter, the relationship of Cornish art to conceptualism has generally been one of antipathy.
Much contemporary art in Cornwall, particularly painting, is constructed around vestigial remnants of abstract expressionism: the artist making their presence felt through their use of gesture and colour, with abstract elements placed across the canvas according to intuition and aesthetic judgement. Painterly values are still held dear by many, who, as well as ‘aesthetic judgment’ are likely to value related qualities like craftsmanship.
‘Young and hung’, showing a few hundred yards away from NSA Lineage was a sophisticated and refreshing antidote, therefore, to this otherwise all too prevailing attitude.see Revolver exhibition review for other pictures and more on the other shows
artists: Matthew Coombes, Sarah Holmes, Simon Jaques, Rebecca Kidson, Jonty Lees, Eloise Rowley, Gino Saccone, Lucy Willow, George Young
curated by Simon Jaques and Becky Kidson