Late Friday afternoon we finally made it along to the Hayward Gallery on the Southbank to see British Art Show 7, subtitled rather meaninglessly, as far as I could make out anyway, ‘In the Days of the Comet’. Billed as “the most ambitious and influential exhibition of contemporary British art”, the experience, for me, was largely underwhelming. Which is a shame, as I don’t like feeling cynical or indifferent about contemporary art. Too many works left me cold. Works which were over-contrived, or lacked an element of mystery or emotion, a quality which it’s almost impossible to put your (my) finger on, yet is essential to make a piece of art – well, art. I was rather tired, I admit, which probably didn’t help; and there was a lot – perhaps too much – to see. And of course my personal prejudices come into play. As a writer, I don’t want to read a lot of text to be able to appreciate or find a way into an artwork – I’m looking for a different experience from visual art, something I can’t easily put into words, something I can’t do.
But there were a few pieces I responded to. Maaike Schoorel‘s near-monochromatic paintings – quiet, reflective, revealing their detail slowly. George Shaw‘s paintings of English suburban scenes, rendered in Humbrol enamel paints and reminiscent of ’70s colour snapshots, veering between wistful and troubling. And, like a much-needed slap in the face, Sarah Lucas‘s soft sculptures made from tights, fluff and wire – uncompromising, confrontational, witty. That’s what I want from contemporary art.