<br> The British Art Show is a mammoth, five yearly survey of cutting edge art which promises the stars of tomorrow today. Or that certainly is its established form. Since its inception in 1979, the exhibition has showcased every major British figure – Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and on and on – just before they hit the big time. So if you want to see the future in art ahead of the pack, this, housed amid the high-Victorian splendour of Leeds Art Gallery, and moving on to Edinburgh, Norwich and Southampton, looks just the place.
At first sight though, it appears that the art of the coming decade will be pretty much like the art of the past decade. The first impression is of entering a sort of Turner Prize exhibition-cubed – though one that is considerably more varied and entertaining than the current Turner incarnation in Glasgow.
The 42, mostly younger artists, are all some years – at the very least – out of college, but the prevailing tone is one of breathless undergraduate cleverness. Andrea Buttner provides a stream of images illustrating every figure of speech in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement, while Charlotte Prodger somehow manages to conflate a Gertrude Stein novel from which every instance of the word “may” has been excised and a video disquisition on race horse names (please don’t ask me why).
Like many of the artists here, they’ve adopted the now standard practice (perhaps that should be formula) of taking an object, text or idea through a transforming process, generally climaxing with some sort of performance. At least Stuart Whipps’s AMR 7335 brings a political dimension to this idea, presenting the shell of a Seventies Mini car, one of the last to be made at the strike-riven Longbridge plant, which will be gradually renovated over the course of the exhibition. By driving the refurbished car to the show’s final destination in Southampton, Whipps is presumably making a point about the loss of manufacturing skills; the fact that the car was made in 1979, the year of his birth and Thatcher’s accession to power feels significant.
At the other end of the scale, Cally Spooner’s “opera” formed from comments dissing Beyoncé on YouTube (“Return your Grammy bitch” is a fair sample) sounds pleasantly subversive on paper, but the actual experience is arid, rather academic and nothing like as ground-breaking as the exhibition would have us believe.
Yet there are signs of new tendencies that counter the dominant taste for anally retentive, semiological point-making. Rachel Mclean’s film Feed Me is a candy-coloured, pseudo-DreamWorks nightmare on the sexualisation and infantilisation of childhood. Time will tell if it is genius or utter nonsense, but its sheer bonkers energy brings a breath of fresh air. 2013 Turner Prize-winner Laure Prouvost’s sound-piece , in which the gallery walls address us in a faux-sultry French accent and turn exhibition-going into a sort of aural sex-game, sounds corny, but is actually very funny.
On the upper floors there are signs of what looks suspiciously like a craft revival, but with a postmodern twist. Caroline Achaintre’s expressionistic shag-pile wall hangings and Aaron Angell’s cack-handed ceramic tableaux are in fact just as knowing and multi-referential as everything else here, yet they hint towards an approach that is earthier, more sensual and a lot more physical than the convoluted head games that have dominated British art for so long.
Leeds Art Gallery, 9 October - 10 January 2016 Admission free; leeds.gov.uk/artgallery