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"Somewhat Abstract: Selections from The Arts Council Collection" opens at Nottingham Contemporary
Daniel Sinsel, Untitled, 2012. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.

NOTTINGHAM.- Virtually every significant artistic movement since the Second World War is touched on in this major exhibition of British made art. It presents the work of 70 artists including eight Turner Prize winners and is curated by Nottingham Contemporary’s Director, Alex Farquharson. Somewhat Abstract is the largest exhibition from The Arts Council Collection since 2006.

Although the exhibition includes several great exponents of abstract art, including Anthony Caro, Barbara Hepworth, Kenneth Martin and Bridget Riley – most of the works are not strictly speaking abstract. Instead they are near abstract or made with abstraction in mind.

In the mid 20th century abstract and figurative art were seen as opposites, with artists forced to take sides. The works in Somewhat Abstract reveal how this dichotomy became redundant as new ways of thinking about art came to the fore, such as conceptual approaches and political concerns. Today many contemporary artists move with agility between abstraction and representation.

Many of the art works in the exhibition belong to the more ambiguous spaces between the familiar “isms” of textbook art histories. This less classifiable art, the exhibition suggests, is of no less importance to understanding how art has developed in recent decades. Most of the art works retain references to the world, but cast these in different perspectives, at some remove from “reality.”

“The word abstract is also used to describe a thought or theory that is removed from concrete facts and circumstances,” said Alex Farquharson, Director of Nottingham Contemporary. “This includes the systems, models and diagrams that we use to explain the world, or control it.”

For this reason Somewhat Abstract reflects ideas and perspectives outside of art itself. It alludes to nature and landscape, architecture and technology, history and power, modelling and map-making. Its art works consider social and economic systems, class and gender, bodily experience and existential questions, while the scales it deals with range from the macro to the micro.

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England said: “The Arts Council Collection is a fabulous national treasure that benefits audiences up and down the country. It’s brilliant that Alex Farquharson has brought together such an intriguing selection from the Collection under the expansive title ‘Somewhat Abstract.’ There are many great things here for visitors to Nottingham Contemporary to enjoy – some familiar, some perhaps not. That’s what makes a memorable exhibition, and I’m excited that such an intelligent and interesting selection from the Collection will be open to audiences from Nottingham, the East Midlands and beyond.“

Jill Constantine, Acting Director, Arts Council Collection, said, “The Arts Council Collection, managed by the Southbank Centre is one of the foremost collections of post war British Art. We are delighted that this exhibition, made up entirely from the Arts Council Collection will be seen at Nottingham Contemporary this Spring, in the largest show of works from the Collection since 2006.”

Somewhat Abstract includes paint on canvas and bronze sculptures, both staples of earlier abstract art. It also includes near-abstract photography, together with art works made from resin, Plasticine, pig’s blood and burnt objects. One work, by Cerith Wyn Evans, takes the form of a magnificent crystal computer-driven chandelier synced with a morse code monitor signalling a text by the avant garde musician John Cage.

Somewhat Abstract reflects the abstractions that now shape our world, from minimalist architecture to global finance. Even the all pervasive digital image is formed from abstract squares of coloured light, if you get close enough.

It is the largest presentation of the Arts Council Collection since Hayward Gallery’s How to Improve the World in 2006.

Artists include
Tomma Abts, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Anna Barriball, David Batchelor, Zarina Bhimji, Karla Black, Peter Blake, David Bomberg, Christine Borland, Martin Boyce, Varda Caivano, Anthony Caro, Helen Chadwick, Adam Chodzko, Prunella Clough, Bernard Cohen, Harold Cohen, Keith Coventry, Richard Deacon, Jeremy Deller, Rita Donagh, Garth Evans, Barry Flanagan, Elisabeth Frink, Gilbert and George, Laura Godfrey-Isaacs, Paul Graham, The Hackney Flashers, Alexis Harding, Raphael Hefti, Barbara Hepworth, Thurston Hopkins, John Hoyland, Zebedee Jones, Emma Kay, Philip Lai, Peter Lanyon, John Latham, Mark Lewis, Hilary Lloyd, Kenneth Martin, Gustav Metzger, Alan Michael, Cathy De Monchaux, Yoko Ono, Eduardo Paolozzi, Kathy Prendergast, Bridget Riley, Karin Ruggaber, Colin Self, Walter Sickert, Daniel Sinsel, Lucy Skaer, Richard Smith, Jem Southam, Wolfgang Tillmans, Amikam Toren, William Tucker, Armando Andrade Tudela, Mark Wallinger, Rebecca Warren, Richard Wentworth, Rachel Whiteread, Cathy Wilkes, Stephen Willats, Cerith Wyn Evans.

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