Nick Hackworth

Beck’s Futures 2, ICA Galleries

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

I’ve seen the future, and it sucks. Beck’s Futures is now the biggest British art prize going in terms of prize money, with a total of £60,000 being doled out: £4,000 to each of the 10 short-listed artists and a further £20,000 going to the winner. Inevitably, big does not mean good. The short list, apparently representing the best of young talent, consists of five painters (well four and DJ Simpson, who “paints” by savaging bits of MDF and plywood with an electric router), three photographers and two artists who produce sculptures/installations.

On balance, the photographers edge it, though this is hardly an accolade. Gemma Iles, at 25 the youngest artist on show, produces clean, striking portraits in which quite human dramas unfold against anonymous backgrounds. Dan Holdsworth, too, makes a virtue of anonymity, depicting strange scenes of floodlit and desolate out-of-town shopping malls with clinical, colour-saturated precision. The sculptors are a mixed bag. Brian Griffiths has created an enormous, amusing Blue Peter-style sculpture of a horse and his rider using all manner of household detritus. Shahin Afrassiabi, however, has conjured one of those installations that firmly focuses your attention on the room’s decorative plaster mouldings in the hope of receiving some intellectual and aesthetic relief.

The painters, sadly, are no better. Simon Bill, whose inclusion in an exhibition subtitled Tomorrow’s Talent Today seems to be stretching things a little, given that he was born in 1958, presents five oval paintings, none of them interesting. Clare Woods splatters enamel paint inconsequentially around in what looks like a Frankenstein coupling of the styles of Gary Hume and Jackson Pollock, while retaining the virtues of neither. DJ Simpson, who apparently is a strong contender for the overall prize, however, deserves special mention. In creating Secondary Modern, a huge 7m x 3m monster that leans against the wall of the lower gallery, he has needlessly ruined a perfectly good piece of high-pressure laminated birch. He has drawn squiggles, carved lines, gouged pits and denuded areas of the black laminate that covers the surface of the wood —basically doodling on paper writ large (and more destructively) with an electric router. Our poor birch tree, when first sprouting from some fecund forest floor, did not foresee for itself a fate as foul as this.The winner will be announced at a gala awards evening at the ICA next Tuesday.

Continues until 20 May (020 7930 3647)