London Degree Shows (June 2023)
We viewed degree shows exhibiting the work of the first BA and MA cohorts since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted by the government. The majority of schools showed an incredible improvement in the quality of art-making and installation from last year; clearly, the collective experiences of sharing studios, using technical workshops and experiencing in-person teaching has been hugely beneficial.
Our 'best of' exhibiting artists is included in the gallery of images above and below. It can be hard to withstand a degree show - it’s the most cramped and sprawling group show, apart from the RA summer show, perhaps, that you’ll ever be in! The artists, however, struck us immediately as expressive and bold in their execution and use of materials. Drawing on contemporary culture, art-making, science and politics, they nonetheless seemed to be developing a visual language that is unique.
The Slade MA and City and Guilds BA shows were particularly strong, and interestingly curated relative to other schools. The Kingston MA show was beautifully installed in three different sections of the campus; our favourite rooms were in the Stanley Picker Gallery. It was a shame to see that some shows - like the Chelsea School of Art BA show - lacked any clear system of labelling; this immediately puts new graduates at a disadvantage because their work could not be easily linked to their name or social media profile.
It’s exciting to uncover individual artists, but it’s equally interesting when visiting so many degree shows to assess current vogues and to have your finger on the pulse of London’s graduate art scene. This year, the overwhelming motif was fountains: nearly every show had a fountain - mini fountains, public fountains, milky fountains, bloody fountains - a whole gamut! This probably reflects an interesting new development in sculptural installations to contend with the history of public spaces, as well as technology, irrigation (as related to agriculture), and a recourse to archetypal imagery - fountains have long been symbols of life and vitality. There was a lot of vitality and experimentation with media too.
Artwork by Hannah Uzor
Artwork by Lola Collins
The RCA MA show was split between 1-year MA, shown at the RCA and the 2-year MA, exhibited at the Truman Brewery. Although the show at the Truman Brewery was easier to navigate than the one at the RCA, as all the exhibits were condensed into one space, the jumble of exhibits from service design to architecture, textile, fine arts and more, all thrown in together did not serve particular art forms, who need space and context to breathe. Beautiful artworks were on display with thrilling use of colour, lines and material.
Generally, it was a strong set of exhibitions with a great crop of artists. We will certainly be tracking a few of them, whom you might see pop up on ArtULTRA over the next few months. We leave you with an artwork from one of our absolute favourite artists from Slade this year, Hannah Uzor. She will go far, there is no doubt about that!
Artwork by Jesse Akele