The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition has been on each year for almost a quarter of a millennium, in contrast the Whitechapel’s London Open is the young pretender. Held every three years this is nonetheless the eighty-third year since the competition’s inception under a more localised slant as the East End Academy. It now welcomes contributions from all the London boroughs and this year received a record number of submissions from more than two thousand, one hundred artists. Forty-eight have been chosen and with them they bring a huge range of practise and background — more than a dozen countries are represented in that these artists are now based in the capital but have origins from all over the world.
Upon entering the first gallery there is a zigzag brick wall and two dangerously hanging glass sheets, there are paintings draped on bamboo stalks, another on the gallery wall and the sound of video interrupts the ambience; it’s carefully curated considering the number of different pieces and styles. On a first walk around it was the smaller subtler pieces I enjoyed the most, the lightly waxed geometric acrylics of Isha Bøhling and minimal constructions of Jane Bustin. There are almost hidden painted aluminium paper chains in different corners and the show welcomes a return visit though the three exhibiting galleries rather than a quick exit and walk down the other stairs.
On the first floor Caroline Walker’s swimming pool harks back to Hockney’s LA but at night, further away, more sinister and voyeuristic. Over a pile of stone there are Inca like staircases in miniature honed into rocklike maquettes of ancient villages, there is an entire wall singed with light black burns creating a wonderful abstract forest covered in snow, something Nordic and large enough to loose yourself in. Three paintings of clay work are photorealistic in their execution but dramatically different in their subject. A leather jacket blinks with LEDs spelling out ‘Feelings' across the shoulders.
Back in the first gallery Eva Stenram makes Lynchian changes to photographs of curtains, her Drape series littered with protruding limbs entering the frame where they shouldn’t. Equally wonky is a ceramic column of school lockers, all warped and bent as if from a fire. Nelmarie Du Preez gamely sits at a desk hands out, fingers apart with a robotic arm stabbing a knife between them; in another she wrestles with a different mechanical foe with a bow and arrow, the spike pointed at her face.
Lucy Joyce is projecting a film of a house half covered in gold plastic sheeting, billowing in the wind; its shine almost blinding from the found surface, a rectangle of perspex hanging from the ceiling allowing much of the projector's glare straight through. Then there is Mitra Savoury who has submitted a video of a woman’s manicured nails scraping away at the calcified grime in between bathroom tiles; unpleasant tiny scrapes like the picking of a scab.
It intends to present to the public a board swash of what is going on now, what art looks like in the biggest city in Europe, the art capital of the world. There are some weaker contributions within the whole but by and large this is a successful overview, a great measuring stick and it is encouraging that though there are some more recognised names showing, the vast majority of those here will be new to most visitors.
http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/coming-soon-london-open/ until September 6th