Nick Hackworth

Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2003, Wharf Road

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Since 1949 the annual New Contemporaries exhibition has showcased, supposedly, the best student art in the UK. Any recent graduate can submit work for consideration and this year 1,200 hopefuls were whittled down to the select 32 on show here. For them, inclusion will be enormously helpful in the difficult period after graduation, bringing attention from dealers, critics and the wider public. The usefulness of that exposure is testified to by an “alumni” list that includes Howard Hodgkin, David Hockney, Damien Hirst and Gillian Wearing.

This worthy enterprise deserves support. Recently, however, the show has been irredeemably average and this year is no exception. More depressing, though, is the sense of a missed opportunity. There was, floating in an ocean of dross, some good student work this year. Sculpture, particularly that at Chelsea school of art, was notably strong. Sadly, none of it is to be found here.

Among the inexplicable selections here are: a video of a dog wandering along the Venice waterfront for about a minute, another shot from a car endlessly circling a roundabout, and the efforts of someone who has doodled on reproductions of work by Van Dyck and Velasquez with a spirograph. Beyond a certain shallowness, these and the other failing artworks bear no common characteristic, so at least they can retain their precious claims to individuality.

The few high points were similarly eclectic. The most beautiful images here are Daniel. Cramer’s haunting photographs of dark forest scenes. Sigrid Holwood has produced some painterly landscapes and Stephen Pierce some equally successful, tightly painted renderings of weird, alien forms.

Meanwhile, the most amusing work comes courtesy of two shameless self-publicists. Mustafa Hulusi employs the simple but successful tactic of sticking his name all over the place, including a picture of Tony Blair. Mark McGowan exhibits reports of his various humiliating performances-cum-media stunts. Recently he pushed a peanut seven miles to Downing Street with his nose, handing in the nut as a protest against student debt. Which goes to show that fortune favours the pushy.

Until 26 October. Box office: 0845 120 7550.