Nick Hackworth

Beck’s Futures, ICA

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

The ICA’s love affair with the street and urban cool will be at its most intense tomorrow with the opening of Beck’s Futures, the contemporary art prize it has been running for the past three years.

Billed as being “a whole lot hipper than the Turner Prize ” by no lesser an authority than The Face, Beck’s Futures tends to focus on young artists who engage quite obviously with popular culture — producing work that would be just as at home in a bar or a fashion magazine as in a gallery. Beck’s Futures is also the UK’s biggest art prize, with total prize money of £65,000. And the ICA is clearly pretty pleased with itself for creating an award not just hipper but bigger than the Turner.

Despite the sense that the show is trying just a little too hard to be hip — Björk has been roped in to announce the winner in May, and the judges have shown a worrying predilection for work inspired by skate culture — there is something to celebrate over here: principally, a lack of pretentiousness.

Though much of the work by the 10 short-listed artists is unoriginal and inane, none of it suffers from the embarrassment of having failed to live up to ludicrous claims made for it.

Some of the best work is the most straightforward, produced by the painters Kirsten Glass and Neil Rumming. Glass’s sexy, collage-style paintings are littered with models and dominatrices floating in different spaces on the work’s surface — compelling images of sinister and attractive women.

Meanwhile, in Stallion, Rumming has rendered Ferrari’s stallion logo flatly upon the canvas, but has filled up its insides with a lurid, fantastical anatomy, creating a weird and striking two- and three-dimensional image.

The show is stolen, however, by two art school drop-outs and its youngest participants: Nick Relph and Oliver Payne, the former only 22. Mixtape is their skate-inspired short film backed by a 23-minute re- mix of the Motown track Poppy No Good, by minimalist composer Terry Riley.

Completely absurd but deeply amusing, Mixtape features, inexplicably, a pre-teen rock band, a couple who alternately stick two fingers up at each other and footage of grotesque US rednecks chortling while they blow away deer. The work has no rhyme and less reason, and is too long, but has a brazenness that makes it undeservedly compelling.

Elsewhere there is some attractive photography and less-attractive video and sculpture, but in Relph and Payne one senses that the prize has found an affinity. If Beck’s Futures were a person, it would be a street urchin obsessed with stealing hubcaps in Lewisham — and when it grew up, this is the kind of video it would want to shoot. And since there is no justice in the world, Relph and Payne might even end up with the prize.

ICA, The Mall, SW1. Opens tomorrow until 12 May