Let’s be frank, things can get stagnant in the art world sometimes. If you are looking for a refreshing break from your gallery routine, then search no more as The Unit London has put on the show you’ve been craving for.
Curated by Jonny Burt and Joe Kennedy in tandem with Sacha Bailey from The Something Else Collective – an Art Movement, as it calls itself, whose mission is to promote the work of young talents – New Blood brings into the spotlight the quintessence of London’s young artistic movement to offer a fresh and challenging take on today’s art.
New Blood’s highlights include Ivan Alifan’s provocative and sexually suggestive paintings; a series of intense shots by Fenton Bailey; and Cecile Plaisance’s Lens series of interactive lenticular Barbie holograms. The exhibition also includes Russell Young, whose work delves into the depths of our turbulent times; and Joe Webb, whose collages address themes of nostalgia and romance.
1883 caught up with Jonny, Joe and Sascha to talk about the show, the London art scene, and the challenges of being a curator.
How did the collaboration between The Something Else Collective and The Unit London come about?
Joe Kennedy: It was quite an organic collaboration. Last summer, David Bailey walked into the gallery and was impressed with the work. He left, and came back an hour later with his wife to show her around. Since then, he has been extremely supportive of the gallery and what we are tying to achieve. It was through David that we met Sascha, who fronts The Something Else Collective. There was clear synergy between both of our young brands from the outset – like us, Sascha is an artist who was frustrated with the alienating nature of the modern art world, and similarly has a collective that strives to make a change in the industry. We both have these unique platforms and we want to use them to showcase some of the most talented, emerging artists in the world. Sascha shares our passion and joining forces with other like-minded people is hugely important if we are to truly mobilise change in the way that art is managed, promoted and perceived in the future.
As the title suggests, New Blood is all about young artists; can you give us an insight into the show?
Sascha Bailey: The exhibition marks our progression into an industry which, as we know it, has always been reserved for the old guard. This show is a statement of intent, a marker of what is to come in the next generation of artists and art management. Art has never been as accessible as it is today, and the younger generation now adopts a more vested interest in art. But as we enter a new age, where the strength of digital and social media becomes increasingly powerful, we strive to lead by example to change the way that art is managed, sold, and perceived. In this new collection we are proud to be showcasing some of our strongest, emerging international talent to date. It’s not just about young artists. What we are trying to do as a gallery and with this show is usher in a new breed of art enthusiast; a new breed of art collector, a new breed of artist, a new breed of gallery
Speaking of young and emerging artists, what do you think of the London art scene? Is the city a lively hub of creativity and artistic innovation as many think, or the best is now behind us, as someone says?
Jonny Burt: I think London will always provide a melting pot for incredible new talent coming through, and we have our finger on the pulse to make sure we are championing that talent. But more and more we are learning that it’s often about trying to find diamonds in the rough; despite what you see, a lot of what is out there is derivative, formulaic, exhausted. So often you see the same artists rotated on the same gallery circuit, and it’s frustrating when there’s a wealth of undiscovered talent out there who don’t have a platform to get themselves seen. From that perspective we have come to foster a real international presence in the gallery – we love introducing fresh, emerging talent to the London scene.
As three young curators, what, in your view, does the curator’s role actually entail?
Joe: For us, I think the key consideration of being a curator is that we never knew how to be a curator. It just happened – every creative decision we make comes from an artist’s perspective: we believe we have a good eye for composition and what looks good. None of us were formally trained as curators; none of us are from a strictly ‘art background’ – we have essentially learned on the job and done things our own way, and that has been the most rewarding part. We haven’t come to the gallery system with preconceived ideas of how things should or shouldn’t be done – we’ve trusted our instincts and backed our own decisions. The role of the curator is simply to create harmony between artworks together in the same room – it’s about balance, contrast, light and shade, making sure everything fits, but most importantly, weaving a narrative that ties everything together seamlessly. It’s a form of storytelling; you have to be directive with the viewer and provide an experience that enhances the narrative in the collection, or in this case, the broader message of the exhibition.
What are the greatest challenges of being a curator? What do you look for in a young, emerging artist? And where do you find them?
Jonny: Since the curation process is very much a collaborative one, it’s always about coming to a mutual agreement with the arrangement of the work between us. Fortunately, we all have similar taste and I think the more shows you do, you get into the groove of making the same decisions and selecting the same things. With regards to artists, there aren’t any prerequisites. As we’ve always said, what we look for in any new artist is undeniable talent, anything which strikes a chord with us. It’s always a gut reaction to something – something we feel that we’ve never seen before. The internet is always our first port of call for selecting new talent: many of the artists we represent we have discovered either via online magazines, blogs, and most recently, Instagram.
What’s the greatest advice you have ever been given? And what advice would you give to an aspiring curator?
Sascha: For any aspiring curator, I’d say choose work that you genuinely love, irrespective of anything else. Select work that you have personally a real affinity with. The work you choose is an extension of yourself and your taste, and it means when you’re talking to people about that artist, your passion for the work will sell itself.
As a last question, what’s next for you? What do you guys have lined up for 2015?
Jonny: There will be a sequel to New Blood which will be coming later in the year. For the immediate future we are hosting our debut European solo exhibition with Ryan Hewett in April, which we are hugely excited about - a project that has been in the works for the past year. At the end of year we are planning to start an exhibition programme in the Middle East, and hopefully some fairs overseas 2015/16.
New Blood will be running until 2nd April at The Unit London, 9 Earlham St, London, WC2H 9LL
Words by Jacopo Nuvolari