I popped into Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery today in anticipation of enjoying their ‘New Art Now’ exhibition of recent acquisitions of contemporary art, Drawn in by the Fiona Rae painting on the flyer, the exhibition seemed promising with apparently a more international range of artists’ work to get away supposedly from much of the so-called ‘regionalism’ of the collection.
What a disappointing and dull experience it proved to be. I actually like many of the artists on display, yet found the whole hanging and feel of the show very uninspiring. It just seemed very flat and boring, lacking variety although there was a diverse range of work. It just all seemed to have a ‘cool’ and detached feel, with much of the work possessing an obsession with formalism that kept me at arm’s length.
The Fiona Rae piece was not her best, with just not enough of the dynamism and formal inventive energy that I love in much of her work. There was a Jason Martin piece that seemed really dated already somehow, although I hate things to be defined on those terms. I love George Shaw’s and Callum Innes’s paintings usually too, but I felt there work lacked their usual power in this context.
The international work was represented by the German printmaker, Christaine Baumgartner, and Chinese artist, Miao Xiaochun. Baumgartner’s giant woodcuts were based on video stills of reflections in the Birmingham canals. I didn’t enjoy these, either as images, or as depictions of water, lacking the visual complexity of their subject. The monumental photograph by Miao Xiaochun, one of China’s leasing artists, was apparently inspired by the flattened perspective to be found in Chinese scroll paintings, where the artist had manipulated his photograph of a Chinese bus station to create a similar effect, where all the elements existed on the same perspective plane across the picture. To be honest the effect was so subtle as it made me wonder why he bothered, and I can’t but help finding manipulated photographs like this more and more boring. I never really liked them. The image itself was surprisingly just not that interesting to engage you more fully either, with or without the photo trickery.
I think galleries like BMAG play an important role in supporting our regional artists and exposing their work to visitors from outside the area. The ‘How Art Is Made’ gallery at BMAG showcases some excellent artworks by some of the regions artists. I would hate to see this neglected in favour of these recent acquisitions which really failed to impress this visitor today. I felt really let down, particularly as I helped to pay for these pieces.