Giant water lilies and a stuffed horse: Tate's new sensations

SUSPENDED HORSES, suicidal squirrels and board games for the bored are among the works at the Tate Gallery's "playful" and "magical" new exhibition, which opens this week.

Abracadabra brings together the work of 15 young international artists and examines their preoccupations in what the Tate's curator, Simon Wilson, describes as a new spirit of "fantasy, humour, invention and provocation".

Featuring four Belgian artists, Americans, a Japanese artist and only two Britons, it represents a sea-change from the dominance of the Brit Art pack of Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin and their friends.

Visitors to the central London gallery yesterday were greeted by a stuffed dead racehorse suspended from the entrance hall ceiling by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, also responsible for a stuffed squirrel that has apparently committed suicide. The Tate's huge exhibition space contains Marie-Ange Guilleminot's bizarrely modified dresses, a crawling "salaryman" robot by a Japanese artist, Momoyo Torimitsu, and giant fleshy water-lilies designed by American Keith Edmier.

With its varied gathering of objects and videos, the gallery looks like a colourful playground and offers several hands-on opportunities, at table football for example. Mr Wilson said: "It's for children of all ages."

Despite the presence of stuffed animals, the organisers are keen to dissociate it from 1997's Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy, which featured dissected animals, children with facial penises and a portrait of Myra Hindley.

Catherine Grenier, the curator at the Musee d'Art Moderne at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, who came up with the idea of the exhibition, said it was in response to the artists. "A lot of art magazines were talking about ... sexual identity, political identity and gender. It was all very serious but I saw that young artists were not interested in that. They were reacting to the difficulties in society not in a political way but by creating work about escapism and making fun things and games to deal with reality."

Indeed most of the works on show seemed to dwell on the pressures of modern life. In a video installation Pierrick Sorin discusses the hazards of everyday life and the pressures to get an education as a shower of books rains down on his head.

The British exhibitor Patrick Noble has invented "Doley", a game that is the antithesis of Monopoly, where the aim is not to win but, far more difficult, to avoid desperation. There is no Go To Jail card, merely a Spend The Day In Bed option and the prize for passing Go is the weekly benefit cheque. Instead of the aspirational sports car and cruise ship the pieces are named "burnt out" and "ineffectual".

Catherine Kinley, a curator at the Tate who organised the exhibition with Ms Grenier, said the artists did not want to shock but rather to invite the visitor into their world.

"It is more a sense of, `Come and share my private thoughts and see what concerns me these days'," she said. "There are humorous exhibits like the exploding house, which shows the end of domesticity and the slapstick comedy of the books falling down. But there is also a poignant theme to many exhibits.

"There is bound to be a certain amount of brouhaha around the horse but I think it is all very affectionate. Animals have been used to tell stories from the time of Aesop and it is just a way of looking at the subject differently. It's more about humour and fantasy."

Indeed most of the visitorsyesterday were completely unfazed. Bill McConnell, from Cleveland, Ohio, summed up the mood. "I was slightly amazed to see a horse hanging from the ceiling, but it is not offensive and anyway if you're going to come to a modern art gallery you have to be prepared for anything."

As Ms Kinley said: "We have called it Abracadabra because it is about the magic and fantasy that is inherent in everyday life."

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