Category Archives: Artes Mundi prize

Review: Artes Mundi 4 at National Museum Cardiff

Photographic work by Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev

Exhibition: Artes Mundi 4: Wales International Visual Art Exhibition and Prize, National Museum Cardiff, until June 6 2010

Olga Chernysheva’s photos of a natural history museum in Moscow can now, by a strange quirk of fate, be seen in a natural history museum in Wales. But the scenes captured by the Russian artist are a world away from those encountered by visitors to National Museum Cardiff.

The Welsh museum and gallery is a vibrant, welcoming, and forward-looking venue. While Muscovites can apparently expect empty lobbies, cluttered displays and sleepy attendants.

Chernysheva’s scenes are static, monochrome and quietly amusing. Like all the shortlisted artists in the fourth Artes Mundi prize, she reminds us that the world has four corners, rather than one, and art can come from any of them.

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev, from Kyrgyzstan, bring to light another alien environment: the barren trails which criss-cross their little known homeland to the West of China and the North of Afghanistan, otherwise known as the Silk Road.

Their photographic subjects include a clothes stall, which makes Romford market look like Selfridges, and a one-room hotel shack with a horse parked in the cab rank. A multi-channel film shows local scrap metal dealers driving groaning trucks back and forth along the rocky roads in a relentless quest to make a living.

International trade is also given attention by Fernando Bryce, with a focus on the very origins of global capitalism. The Peruvian artist is technically impressive, taking news articles and advertising materials from the turn of the 20th century and reworking them as illustrated pages from a comic book history of the world.

His painstaking images and texts fill a sizeable gallery and render long-past events as fresh as his ubiquitous Indian ink, which also gives his grand narrative a fictional look and feel. Our current state of affairs seems all at once precarious, or at least arbitrary.

Yael Bartana, Ergin Çavusoglu, Chen Chieh-jen and Adrian Paci are the four other artists in the show. So perspectives come from Israel, Bulgaria, Taiwan and Albania respectively.

Such work from outside Britain and the US may not have the panache of, say, a cast aluminium lobster by Jeff Koons, but its concerns may be more pressing. It demands no less of your attention.

Written for Culture24.

Feature: Artes Mundi Prize at National Museum Cardiff

A Moscow museum, photographed by shortlisted artist Olga Chernysheva

The UK’s biggest art prize, Artes Mundi, is vying to become the most talked about. At £40,000 it is worth twice as much as the Turner, which should provide twice as much scope for controversy.

While installing work by shortlisted artists at National Museum Cardiff, the organisers make clear their intent. “We’ve taken down a Madonna and Child from the 1600s and put in an LCD screen – we are very pleased with that,” says Director Tessa Jackson.

It now shows the work of film maker, photographer and painter Olga Chernysheva, one of eight international artists contending for the prize. Chernysheva is from Russia, her competition from Peru, Israel, Albania, Bulgaria, Taiwan and Kyrgyzstan.

Jackson points to this worldwide range as the main difference between the fourth Artes Mundi and the annual hoopla of the Turner award. “The Turner prize is very focused because it’s British. It’s every year. It’s a constant search,” she says.

Artes Mundi, by contrast, is held every two years, and the shortlist is chosen by a team of curators who sit apart from the judging panel, which she calls a “different architecture”.

“Each Artes Mundi will set up a different discussion and we have cultural commonalities and cultural differences,” she says of the Turner comparisons. “But we do quite a lot of work, as they do, around familiarising people with contemporary art.”

Indeed, during eight years Artes Mundi has brought 32 international artists to Cardiff. The 2008 show broke records with 70,000 visitors. Last year’s Turner Prize, although a paid exhibition, drew only 7,000 more to Tate Britain.

To convert that interest into lively nationwide debate, Artes Mundi are pulling out the stops in terms of visitor engagement and interactive technology.

Head of Administration Carl Grainger is clearly excited about the virtual comments board. “The idea is you can write or type comments on the exhibition,” he explains. “It appears on the LCD screen in the reception area and selected comments get transferred to our blog. I have never seen anything else quite like that.”

Each proudly wears a t-shirt proclaiming, in English and Welsh, “I’ve met the artists, ask me.” Artes Mundi education co-ordinator Ffion Rhys corroborates this fact.

“The guides all have met the artists, so they all know them first hand,” she declares. “They have all researched a lot of their past work, not just the work included here, and will be able to tell the audience more about other pieces they might have done.”

Live Guide Ruth McLees was clearly enthused by her encounter with the finalists.

“It was amazing speaking to someone, rather than reading about it, and also being able to ask background questions and meet people as a person rather than just an artist,” she says. “They are just a person like us. And they have all these experiences as people which feed into the work.”

Given the geographical range of artists included in the show, the viewer might need these points of reference. Curators Viktor Misiano, from Russia, and Levent Çalikoglu, from Turkey, have chosen an uncompromisingly serious selection in which film and photography predominate.

The results will make demands on your time and offer unfamiliar viewpoints from across the globe. There are no quick hits like those you might find at Brit Art’s biggest prize.

But popularism has never been the only benchmark of success, as Lucy Stout, Head of Development at Artes Mundi, points out: “Of course we all know that some people loathe something so much other people have to see if they loathe it as well,” she concedes. “It’s all good. It’s all talk.”

So whether or not you think the best art should deal with international politics, head for Cardiff and have your say.

Written for Culture24.