Early One Morning, Whitechapel Gallery,
Since the war there have been perhaps three major movements in British sculpture. In the Sixties the New Generation group, mainly taught at St Martin’s by Anthony Caro, used industrial materials, bright colours and assertive scale to create a thoroughly abstract sculptural language. In the Eighties the eclectic Lisson school (named after the Lisson Gallery) created pieces that celebrated the inherent qualities of sculptural materials. In the Nineties the young British artists who, though they hardly constituted a coherent sculptural movement, created a series of iconic sculptures including Damien Hirst’s shark, Rachel Whiteread’s House and Marc Quinn’s now sadly melted self- portrait, Self.
Early One Morning sets out to write the next chapter, bringing together five sculptors, Shahin Afrassiabi, Claire Barclay, Jim Lambie, Eve Rothschild and Gary Webb, mostly in their mid-30s, who represent “sculpture now”. There are enough similarities within this group and between this group and other contemporary sculptors to suggest that the curators have identified a significant movement that actually exists.
This new sensibility is a reaction to the rather simple nature of the YBA’s work and instead seeks to articulate the complexity of the visual world around us. That complexity is manifest in the aesthetic of the eclectic that informs the work — the artistic equivalent of channel-hopping, hopping that is, between materials, forms, sizes and colours. Thus the work here is usually an odd combination of materials and objects, marble or wood with plastic or tissue paper, with the odd everyday item thrown in. As a result, the work, though neither conceptual nor figurative, isn’t pure abstraction either.
Gary Webb’s Paranoid- Mountain, for example, incorporates a bulky, spray- painted C-shaped structure, three, transparent fluorescent Perspex plinths, a figure of a seahorse formed from a thin aluminium strip and a mini-disc player playing the same strange word repeatedly. So here is a complex assemblage of modern stuff, synthetic and shiny, that is neither beautiful nor obviously meaningful but somehow assumes an air of importance. Some of Eva Rothschild’s work is more traditional, betraying an interest in form and volume, but this work is deliberately shown alongside lo-fi work, here works made on paper, to conjure the impure aesthetic of eclecticism. That this trend should be regarded as sophisticated and contemporary, carving as it does a style out of the raw material of our image-and-object saturated environments whilst avoiding simplistic value-judgments, is understandable. But it may be that in doing so it merely throws back at us, barely altered, the incoherence of contemporary experience.
Until 8 September. Information: 020 7522 7878.