ART / Old curiosity: Iain Gale finds the winners of the Cohn & Wolfe Young Artists' Award preoccupied with decay

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The Independent Culture
Those art world pundits who preach that 'art is dead' should visit London's Central St Martin's College of Art and Design. There is a surprising spirit of freshness abroad at the college, home for the next six days to the winning entries for the fifth annual Cohn & Wolfe Young Artists' Award. Here, for once are works by young artists that display genuinely original thought and an impressive maturity of handling.

Take, for instance, the winning entry in the painting section. David Holland's Here and Now is an abstract diptych whose surface resembles striations of baked earth. Landscape references aside, implicit in the painting are comments on world famine, race, gender, degenerative disease and the behaviour of matter.

Such concerns occupy many of the artists showing here, but in a refreshing breadth of styles. In print and paint, the range encompasses the photo-realist pathos of Peter Dukes' Mother and Child and the School of London impasto of Claire Burke's Untitled No 2 and William Brennen's Towards Blackfriars Bridge. In sculpture, the viewer moves from the collective memory of Matt Baker's poignant assemblage Car Door through the enigma of Orlando Salamanca's prize-winning 1+1=1, to the smooth, passive marble figure of Elaine Moss's disquieting Within and Without.

Throughout this diversity it is possible to discern a common interest in what is best called 'deterioration'. For some this is graphically medical. In her vivid 3D fantasy Doll Box, Heather Steed exposes the organic contents that might lie within the bodies of children's dolls. The form in Jeff Asquith's The Uninvited Guest, meanwhile, appears to have been invaded by a hideous parasite. In his sculpture Stump, Tony Lall-Chopra comments on man's desperation to halt the ageing process: a tree stump, sliced and rebuilt, displays the evidence of tampering with the rings that betray its age. But perhaps it is Mark Titchner's painting of the hollow left by a head in a pillow that best evokes the thoughts of love and death, which typify the humanity and disarming honesty of this impressive show.

Southampton Row, London WC1 (071-608 1576). 21-27 March

(Photograph omitted)