Nick Hackworth

East End Academy, Whitechapel Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

A c-minus and extra homework for the organisers and exhibitors at the East End Academy. The exhibition is the latest incarnation of a show that, with a few lapses, has been running annually at the Whitechapel since 1904 and which showcases the work of East End artists.

Back then, anyone who pitched up with work would get it shown, creating a chaotic carnival that reflected the vibrancy of the local art scene. Even in 1998, when the exhibition was last seen — titled the Whitechapel Open — 150 artists showed at the gallery, and almost 900 more in their own studios. Here, sadly, are only 22 exhibits, whittled down from the 800 who submitted work for consideration.

Sad, for the original point of the East End Academy was to provide a snapshot of the artistic activities of an entire community, good and bad.

Sadder still, because, even since 1998, the number of artists in the East End has mushroomed, and few of them get the chance to show in recognised spaces. The quality of the work, from artists who are mostly in their twenties and thirties and graduates of London’s top art schools, is depressing. The painting is uniformally from the deliberately amateurish school, executed in a style that parades its carelessness as a badge of honour.

The photographers do rather better, with Christopher Stewart’s atmospheric, narrative scenes, Emer O’Brien’s atmospheric studies of almost abstract landscapes and natural scenes, such as her image of a pathetic, hooded donkey, and Mandy Lee Jandrell’s Gurskyesque shots of shopping malls and modernity.

The quirky sculpture of Caroline McCarthy also stands out. She has covered a table with packaging from ready meals, and cut out the shapes of any green matter, such as parsley or basil, pulling them up 90 degrees so that they form a forest of tiny representations of organic nature, amid a sea of plastic mediocrity.

Until 29 August. Information: 020 7522 7888.