I find contemporary art an interesting creature. Often it seems to be more about the idea behind a work of art, or the process involved in making the work, than about the actual work itself.
This occurred to me recently as I viewed the 2012 finalists in the Church of England Grammar School Emerging Art Prize. The Churchie Prize has been running for a quarter of a century, and invites entries from emerging Australian artists working in any medium. On offer is a $15,000 prize for the overall winner, plus smaller prizes for commended artists.
More than 700 entries were received this year, with the 41 finalists (including the winner) now on show at the Queensland College of Art gallery at South Bank. The works are an eclectic bunch, with painting, drawing, video, and mixed-media works all represented.
Not surprisingly, given the show's contemporary emphasis, there are quite a few digital video entries, including overall winner Heath Franco's work Your Door.
The Sydney artist's 8-minute video is a pastiche of vivid images, including a devil and a saxophone player sporting a Groucho Marx mask. As the judges say, it's clever and 'zany' and mantra-like in its repetitive soundtrack, but I didn't find it particularly engaging at either an emotional or aesthetic level.
I had a similar reaction to quite a few of the other works. While the artists' statements described complex ideas and often intriguing processes leading up to the creation of the work, the art itself didn't move me, grab me or thrill me. Whether this reflects the fact that these are emerging artists, the genre of art, or my own tastes or shortcomings, I'm not sure.
But I did find much to enjoy in two of the commended works. Brisbane artist Sam Cranstoun's drawing Coronation Parts I and II combines exceptional technical skill with a wry sense of humour, gently poking fun at both the British royals and Australian culture.
And Genevieve Kemarr Loy, an Indigenous artist from the Utopia community in the Northern Territory, has created a beautiful and detailed vision in her untitled painting.
My favourite work, however, was not among the prizewinners. Alison Hill's large painting, The Aardvark in the Room, juxtaposes a slightly plaintive creature with the domesticity of floral wallpaper and a white tablecloth.
Detail from Alison Hill's 'The Aardvark in the Room'
With humour and artistry, Hill manages to both celebrate and play with the conventions of classical still-life paintings, and introduce further emotional complexity through a clever title. And I didn't need to read her artist's statement to be moved by her work (although, when I did, it added another layer of meaning).
In its central South Bank location, this exhibition is easy to visit next time you're nearby. While not all the works resonated for me, I found a number very rewarding, and it was interesting to see a snapshot of emerging contemporary art.
It's certainly worth going along to see what you make of it yourself.