For most of the last two centuries, mainstream art has been focused on Rome, Paris, New York and occasionally Berlin or Munich. In 1995 Britain looks like having its first innings as the world leader in contemporary art. The new art - sexual jokes, explorations of tedium, monochrome canvases (or stripes), videos and photographs - generally mystify the general public in Britain. But foreign curators, dealers and collectors have been pouring into London to look at it over the last few months - and even buy it. The buzz has gone around the cognoscenti that the UK has the liveliest young art scene in the world.
To celebrate the new year, we have asked London's young dealers to give their views on the art that's going to be most fashionable in 1995. It's all of it esoteric stuff, challenging the nature of reality and exploring the impact of media fantasies, advertising and hi-tech on human imagination. The 25- to 35-year-old artists at the cutting edge of the new art are mostly reeling under these influences but the best of them provide a perceptive commentary on what makes contemporary society tick.
For instance, there's a machine devised by two brothers, Jake and Dinos Chapman, in a plexi-glass showcase in the current show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. It's called Little Death Machine; when a hammer hits a replica of a human brain, liquid spurts out of a plastic penis. The brothers, who graduated from the Royal College in the late Eighties, also make toy sculptures based on Goya's Disasters of War and are tipped for a breakthrough in 1995 by Sadie Coles of the Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Paul Hedge of the Hales Gallery and Victoria Miro who shows their work at her gallery in Cork Street.
Most of the galleries I spoke to backed their own artists. Paul Hedge was the exception. He runs the Hales Gallery in a basement in Deptford High Street on the proceeds of a popular cafe upstairs and had the generosity to name Victoria Miro as "the gallery that's going places" in 1995. "She's got the best artists," he explained, adding that his gallery gave Jake and Dinos Chapman their first show in Deptford before Victoria spotted them.
Exhibitions that will focus attention on UK art this year include the British Council exhibition of 11 young artists in Copenhagen in March and the Saatchi Gallery exhibition, featuring five artists, in April. The high point, however, will be the September show at the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis: "Brilliant: New Art from London".
Richard Flood, curator of the Minneapolis show, has an outsider's clarity of vision about what characterises the new British art. "It is a post-Thatcher construct," he told me. "Artists are short of money, so they work with easily available materials. There is an interesting flutter of painting - because canvas and paint are cheap. The sculptors take a bricoleur (DIY) approach to sculpture - they drag something into the studio and do things to it. It's a casual approach; nothing is high in fabrication."
In Britain, Charles Saatchi, the advertising mogul and art collector, and Sarah Kent, the art critic of Time Out, have probably the best grasp of what is happening. Saatchi has been collecting young British artists for around four years while selling offthe big names of the Eighties. Sarah Kent's catalogue of his collection, Shark Infested Waters: The Saatchi Collection of British Art in the 90s, published last month, provides the public with the first analytic guide to the new art. The title is taken from Damien Hirst's 1992 sculpture, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14ft shark in a tank of formaldehyde.
Kent says that the new artists "mainly use their work as a kind of research tool". They are probing the nature of the modern world, trying to make sense of reality. "We are cursed - or blessed - by living in interesting times," she says, "and at such moments artists are important because they assert unpopular views, put things in a different perspective, pose awkward questions or simply say what they feel." She points out that the interest of this art lies in why the artist made it - not necessarily in the visual qualities of the art work itself.
A new kind of art requires a new kind of dealer and many new galleries have sprung up recently in London. The older galleries are having to change their habits to get in on the act - Anthony d'Offay opened a special space for young artists last year run by Sadie Coles, 31, a bright young artist spotter; the Lisson gallery is opening a special gallery for new art in 1995 and the Waddington Gallery is collaborating with Karsten Schubert, a leading dealer in new art, to mount a joint painting show which will span the generations and highlight links between Sixties and Nineties artists.
The young galleries are not always easy to find - the new art is still a semi-underground, alternative scene. Here is a list of the more important ones in London with their owners' tips on the hottest art to watch in 1995: White Cube, 44 Duke Street, St James's, SW1, is run by Jay Jopling, the most acclaimed of the new dealers. He represents Damien Hirst and Antony Gormley, the 1994 Turner Prize winner. TIPS FOR 1995: Gary Hume, a minimalist painter with a sense of humour, and Mona Hatoum, a weird and wonderful installation artist whose work has already been bought by the Pompidou. Plus Marc Quinn, famous for making a model of his head out of frozen blood, who will have a big show of new work, organised by Jopling, in April.
The Victoria Miro Gallery, 21 Cork Street, W1, has been around for 10 years but looks like coming into its own this year. Tips for 1995: Jake and Dinos Chapman; Brad Lochore, who paints computer-generated shadows and will be included in the Saatchi Gallery show in April; Steven Pippin who turns washing machines and toilets into pinhole cameras. Pippin has been commissioned to make an installation for the foyer of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. "He's going to drive a truck into the Great Plains, turn it into a pinhole camera and take a diorama," explains Richard Flood. "We'll be exhibiting the truck and the diorama. Heaven knows how."
Anthony Reynolds Gallery, 5 Dering Street, W1, expects to have three winners this year: Mark Wallinger, Georgina Starr and Paul Graham. Wallinger is known for his investigation of racing, including life-size paintings of horses and the purchase of a thoroughbred filly renamed A Real Work of Art. He will have a one-man show at the Serpentine in May. Starr left the Slade in 1992, and has sold her Nine Collections of the Seventh Museum - photographs of a collection of 220 very ordinary objects, elaboratelycross-referenced on a CD-Rom - to the Walker Art Center; Paul Graham has photographed the skies of Northern Ireland.
Interim Art, 21 Beck Road, E8, is run by Maureen Paley, a stalwart supporter of the avant-garde for a decade. Tips for 1995: Julie Roberts a Glasgow artist who paints hospital beds, mortuary slabs or straitjackets, very precisely, on brightly coloured backgrounds, and Alessandro Raho, just left Goldsmiths, who does haunting, realist portraits on white or grey - his first show is in March.
Cabinet Gallery, 8 Clifton Mansions, 429 Coldharbour Lane, SW9; proprietors Martin McGeown and Andrew Wheatley expect more interest in the paranormal, which they call "psy-fi". Tips for: Maggie Roberts, whose photographs explore the interface between computer technology, techno-music and drugs; Simon Bill's pop-meets-occult paintings.
Karsten Schubert, 41-42 Foley Street, W1, is a young German who runs an influential gallery and represents Rachel Whiteread. Tips for 1995: Anya Gallaccio, who explores the process of decay (flowers pressed behind glass, for instance); new abstract painters, especially Glenn Brown and Zebedee Jones. Karsten Schubert and the Waddington Gallery are mounting a joint show of 16 British abstract painters in April.
Laure Genillard, 38a Foley Street, W1, comes from Switzerland and is married to the conceptual artist David Tremlett. Her tips for 1995: Sylvie Fleury's art about shopping; Tadraig Timoney, who makes art that is concerned with Northern Ireland.
Hales Gallery, 70 Deptford High Street, SE8, is run by ex-Goldsmiths' artist Paul Hedge. The Revival Cafe upstairs funds the gallery. Tips for1995: Richard Woods, who makes big sculptures with found objects; Jonathan Callan, who makes sculptures that parody paintings.
Other galleries that deal at the sharp end of Nineties art include the Frith Street Gallery (60 Frith Street, W1), Marc Jancou (41-42 Foley Street, W1), Anderson O'Day (255 Portobello Road, W11), the Todd Gallery (1-5 Needham Rd, W11), Anthony d'Offay (9, 21, 23 & 24 Dering Street, W1) and the Lisson Gallery (67 Lisson Street, NW1).Reuse content