Innovative artworks with strong messages for today

Harriet Lewars
Harriet Lewars
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The Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition opens in York today. Yvette Huddleston spoke to Art Prize director Cherie Federico.

Today sees the opening of the second Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition at York St Marys church showcasing innovative contemporary artworks from around the world. And this year’s show has a truly international flavour – countries represented include Germany, New Zealand, Chile and Italy as well as the UK.

“It’s very exciting,” says Cherie Federico, Aesthetica magazine editor and Art Prize director. “And it’s been a real privilege for me to have been able to look at so many pieces of excellent artwork.”

From over 3,000 submissions, Federico and her panel of judges – Laura Turner, curator at York Art Gallery, Frances Guy, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at the Hepworth, Wakefield and renowned artist Stuart Semple – have selected eight artists for the exhibition, with the work of a further 92 being shown on the monitors within the gallery.

“I am so pleased that we can present these works that have so many strong messages and are so relevant and of the moment,” says Federico. “All the entries were split between the main prize and the student prize across four categories: photographic and digital art, three dimensional design and sculpture, painting and drawing, and video, installation and performance.”

Seven years ago Federico established the Creative Works Award to support emerging artists which, in 2013 became the Aesthetica Art Prize and a partnership was formed with York Museums Trust to host the exhibition. For Federico one of the most important aspects of the Prize is that it champions the work of a new generation of artists. “There are not many opportunities for artists at this stage in their career,” she says. “If they get through, it does open a whole new set of doors for them.” The work on display addresses social and environmental issues, memory, history and identity, and plays with the notion of form. They all open up some area for further discussion, which is something Federico is particularly impressed by. “The work that artists are producing today reflects the world in which we live,” she says. “Works were selected on skill but also on content, it’s about communicating a message whether that is about something as serious as the extinction of bees or playing with form, and questioning what a drawing or painting can be.”

Another part of the appeal of the exhibition for visitors – apart from the outstanding quality of the work – is the beautiful venue in which it is shown. St Marys church, which was de-consecrated in 1958, has been reinvigorated by the vision of York Museums Trust in opening it as a contemporary arts venue in 2004. The combination of ancient architecture and modern artworks certainly sets up a fascinating dynamic and a stimulating context for debate.

“It’s wonderful,” says Federico. “Even as a de-consecrated church it had visitors on a regular basis but now it has been given a whole new lease of life.”

• York St Marys, from April 4-June 22.