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First exhibition of emerging British artists goes on display at the British Museum
Jessie Makinson, And other darlings (study), 2021, graphite. Reproduced by permission of the artist © The Trustees of the British Museum.

LONDON.- In a first for the British Museum, a series of exciting new acquisitions by emerging British artists, is the focus of a new exhibition. Drawing attention: emerging British artists exhibits more than 20 new acquisitions by contemporary emerging artists many of which have never been displayed before. These artists have lived, studied, or worked in the UK, and their work is being displayed alongside drawings by renowned figures including Michelangelo and Andy Warhol.

Twenty-four works, acquired with the support of an Art Fund New Collecting Award, showcase innovative new approaches, methods and materials, with the emerging artists using mediums ranging from make-up on a facial wipe to coloured pencil on paper, experimenting with the boundaries of what a drawing can be. Drawing attention is free to visit from 17 March until 28 August 2022 and explores themes of identity, untold histories and the medium of drawing itself.

Fifteen pieces from the British Museum’s world-renowned collection of prints and drawings also are included in the exhibition, highlighting continuities in drawing across time. Famous artists ranging from Michelangelo to Andy Warhol, Käthe Kollwitz and Antony Gormley, are on show alongside the new acquisitions, which include works by Sin Wai Kin (formerly known as Victoria Sin; b.1991), Rosie Hastings & Hannah Quinlan (both b.1991) and Jessie Makinson (b.1985). These acquisitions reflect on, extend and develop the existing collections, and expand the wide range of subjects and techniques found in the national collection of Western prints and drawings cared for by the British Museum.

The new acquisitions from these emerging artists bring stories and perspectives not currently represented in the Museum collection, including artists addressing challenging questions of identity, gender, sexuality and social justice. Some of the artists look inwards, exploring their personal experiences, while others confront complex social issues such as LGBTQ+ representation and the experience of other marginalised groups.

The exhibition is formed of three sections: Self and Other, Alternate Histories and Medium and Materiality. Self and Other highlights how drawing – a medium historically used as a means of self-examination – can be used to investigate the relationship between the personal and external. Highlights include drawings by Jessie Makinson, who takes inspiration from ecofeminist writings and traditions of speculative fiction. In Makinson’s drawings the worlds of the human and non-human collide, and are inhabited by fluid, anthropomorphic figures. In Makinson’s And Other Darlings (2021) figures sporting tails, pointed ears or spotted skins, have ambiguous relations toward one another which could be perceived as both erotic and menacing. Many of the figures seem to be engaged in rituals, games or dances – though it is not clear if they are helping or hindering one another. The work is being shown alongside a drawing of a Pictish woman by the 16th century English artist John White (c. 1539-1593). Dressed in fanciful mythological garb the imagined encounter with a historical Pict (who lived in northern and eastern Scotland during late antiquity) is flavoured by the artist’s actual encounter with Indigenous Americans as the first governor of the English colony at Roanoke, Virginia.

Alternate Histories includes powerful but marginalised stories and draws attention to lesser-known histories. Artist duo Rosie Hastings & Hannah Quinlan’s work addresses the loss of queer spaces around the UK by depicting the cabaret bar Funny Girls, a mainstay of Blackpool’s nightlife for over 25 years. Their eponymous drawing Funny Girls (2019) reimagines the bar as a vast church-like building with classical proportions recalling Renaissance books of perspective. Within this space Hastings & Quinlan bring to life the complexities of the musical theatre character the ‘Diva’: charismatic, larger than life, and often a means for gay playwrights to express their queerness at a time when to do so openly was dangerous and illegal. Many of the figures are modelled on those of historic artists, such as Michelangelo and Andrea Mantegna, whose drawings are held in the British Museum’s collection.

Michelangelo’s preparatory study for the ignudi (decorative nude figures) on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is beng shown alongside the drawing it helped to inspire.

The final section of the exhibition, Medium and Materiality, explores the physicality of these artworks. Sin Wai Kin’s witty and experimental drawings something more violent than recognition (2017) and what you have gained along the way (2017) were created by removing the artist’s caked-on drag makeup with a face wipe to create a series of ‘Impressions’. The artist identifies as non-binary, using they/them pronouns, and their ‘Impressions’ series examines the performative nature of gender, as well as the blurred boundary between drawing and printmaking. By using their body to create a direct impression, the works provide an intimate record of the artist; they also echo a myth about the origins of printmaking as deriving from the sudarium of St Veronica, a cloth which received a miraculous impression of Christ’s face after he used it to wipe away his sweat and blood. There are many examples in the collection, such as a striking woodcut by the German Renaissance artist Hans Burgkmair, which will be shown alongside Sin’s drawing.

Drawing attention is the culmination of a £50,000 Art Fund New Collecting Award which was awarded to Monument Trust Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawing Isabel Seligman to research, acquire and display around 20 drawings made by emerging artists who have studied, lived or worked in the UK.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said: “Collections are at the very heart of a museum’s work, and the British Museum’s prints and drawings collection is one of the very best in the world. But it is vitally important for future generations that it continues to develop, so we are grateful to Art Fund’s New Collecting Award for allowing us to strengthen our holdings with exciting new British artists.”

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