A profile of British art today

For all the sensation and boost to the art market that the so-called yBas (young British artists) brought about in the early 1990s, their art is retrospectively criticized for its focus on media attention, attention-grabbing tactics and, at times, its easiness. The art of the yBas was an explosive moment with its share of benefits and drawbacks: It gave British art international exposure but came to an end leaving no profound imprints. It is a claim that may sound like an oversimplified judgment but it is one widely shared. The question to perhaps ask now is, how has British art developed since then? What is the British contemporary art scene like? «Britannia Works,» an exhibition curated by Katerina Gregos, attempts to give a partial answer to the question. Stretched across three distinct art venues in Athens – the Xippas Gallery, the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center and the Breeder – the exhibition is organized by the British Council in Athens and is in fact one of its largest projects held in Greece. (A separate film program is being held at the British Council auditorium.) In her description of the British contemporary art scene, Gregos uses phrases such as «multifaceted, multicultural, multiethnic perspectives that are an integral part of post-colonial UK.» The exhibition does indeed include a broad range of works, both thematically and in terms of media. At the same time, a large number of the exhibition’s works share a political thrust. Jeremy Deller’s open derision of US politics and George W. Bush in particular is one of the most obvious examples. One also notes that the exhibition has included artists who are all based in the UK but come from different ethnic backgrounds: examples include Runa Islam from Bagladesh, Shafin Afrassiabi from Iran, Ergin Cavusoglu from Bulgaria and Shizuka Yokomizo from Japan. According to Gregos, this multiethnic mix was previously unknown in exhibitions of British art and reflects on the recent opening of the British art scene to other cultures and new ideas. To select the artists, Gregos spent months traveling in the UK and visiting the studios of artists. Several of them are young, emerging artists (for example, Nick Evans and Matt Bryans) but others are well-known contemporary artists: Jeremy Deller, Ergin Cavusoglu and Black Audio Film Collective, for example, all participated at the recent Dokumenta. In terms of age, some artists belong to the generation of the yBas. However, their style differs in that it is less extroverted and more speculative. Katerina Gregos claims that many of the works are «more low-key, subtle and modest, often reflecting private, indiosyncratic concerns.» The works prove her point. Could this mean that in the post-yBa period, British art, aside from having become more multiethnic, has also turned from aggression to an art that is more more thoughtful and intellectual? As for the case of the yBas, time will probably be the best judgment of this hypothesis. ‘Britannia Works’ is held at the Xippas Gallery (53D Sophocleous, 210.331.9333), the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center (48 Armatolon & Klefton, 210.643.9466) and the Breeder (6 Evmorfopoulou, 210.331.7527) through May 29. Film screenings are at the British Council (17 Kolonaki Square, 210.369.233).

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