Review: Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition


From 8th March – 28th April St Mary’s Church, Coppergate, is being launched from its medieval roots to situate itself at the forefront of the art world. Aesthetica Magazine is making use of the ‘aesthetics’ of the historic building to house the very first exhibition of the shortlisted artists in their annual Art Prize. From interactive installations, to short films, to photography, Aesthetica’s Prize encompasses all the prominent elements of modern and contemporary art. The two shortlisted artists from each of the four categories (Photography and Digital Art; Three Dimensional Design and Sculpture; Painting Drawing and Video; and Installation and Performance) present what appears to be a wildly eclectic smorgasbord of creative talent, but upon closer observation all of the pieces are rooted in similar humanitarian areas. Cherie Federico, Editor of Aesthetica Magazine and one of the judges for the art prize, spoke to Nouse about the artists, the prize, and the significance of the exhibition.


“I am thrilled with the works on display, for me, as an exhibition they cover so many contemporary themes that we’re dealing with today, such as loss of traditions, marginalised communities, human trafficking, representation of women, capitalism and globalisation. These are some of the key issues that face us today, the world is getting smaller, but things are moving faster, at times, we are under so much pressure in our daily lives that we miss things, and for me, one of the most essential parts of this exhibition is that the works have the ability to discuss a wider narrative, and in essence hold a mirror up to society, and ask questions about the current state of play. Art is subjective that’s for certain, but I feel the artists represented here are responding with great force and making work that reflects the world in which we live.”

All of the works in the church present a variation on the theme of the individual’s place within society, and though each artist has produced a self-contained entity, there is no sense of incongruity between the spaces of each artist. The nave of the church is home to the interactive and sculptural endeavours of Poppy Whatmore, Kyunghee Park and Hyung Gyu Kim, where the medieval architecture is juxtaposed with the most modern of symbols. aethetica_artsaward_York2013_awardnight_SMALL063 Federico noted that “It’s important for a dialogue to be created between the artist and the viewer, but also between the works themselves”, and with than in mind, the interaction between Poppy Whatmore’s winning entry The Family Meal and Kyunghee Park’s delicate sculpture seems almost planned. Whatmore’s chaotic mass of wooden framework and furniture, presenting a view on the modern scenes of family life, compliment Park’s reflective glass structures, which comment on the loss of tradition in modern lifestyles.

With such intricate interactions between the pieces, the layout of each artist’s work is central to the progression around the space. “We built four walls in the church to assist with hanging some of the works, so this was critical, but again the walls were designed with the space in mind to ensure that they complement the existing stone walls. Many of the works cover contemporary themes and so curating these together was something that developed naturally between the works themselves”. It would seem like an obvious choice to hang the photographic and other fine art works near one another, but the physical barrier between the nave and the rest of the church allows the space to become like a merger of many different galleries. The wall space is not hindered by intrusive installations, the installations not detracted from by wall space, and the small nooks of the church allow the video space to maintain an intimate environment.


Federico felt that with “York St Mary’s being a medieval church, we have this impressive nave, which for me it made perfect sense to put the large scale installation pieces in that area; mostly because the space can take it with such a high ceiling it complements the space really well. Particularly the juxtaposition between historic and contemporary – they sit very comfortably next to each other.”

The Art Prize is not, however, just about presenting an excellent exhibition, as Federico explained. “Six years ago we launched an initiative to support and champion new and emerging artists. Every year we produced a publication of some of the most inspiring up and coming artists, and last year when I received the book back, I was really impressed with the overall quality of the works, but I felt it was missing an exhibition”. The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition is the culmination of years of work, and is here to showcase the up and coming international talent of the art scene. An exhibition of this calibre is far more likely to be found in amongst the more established galleries of London, but Aesthetica are making an important statement by establishing the exhibition in York. “I hope that year on year, we will bring more people to the city to engage with these works, and actually it’s the start of more contemporary art exhibitions in the city”. For Federico, the exhibition is providing much needed publicity for up and coming artists. “There are not that many platforms for emerging audiences, and I think it’s crucial to bring their work to a wider audience. Not only does it help the artists’ careers, but it also makes the overall sector more engaging, exciting and on the cusp of constant development. I can’t say it enough, but it’s so important to see new artists’ works, it’s these works that are often on the cutting edge of new artistic developments and movements.”

The exhibition is a diverse showcase of contemporary talent, and whilst we hope to see great things from the winners, Damian O’Mara and Poppy Whatmore, every single shortlisted artist brings their own unique perspectives to the exhibition, creating a multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, visual feast. It is not often that York is selected to exhibit such a broad range of modern art, and to miss the exhibition would be foolish for all local art lovers. As Federico says, “For me, contemporary art is what I do, and I love it. So to be able to experience high quality, engaging contemporary art on my doorstep – that’s even better!”

The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition runs at St Mary’s Church Coppergate until 28th April.

All images courtesy of Jim Poyner Photography and Aesthetica Magazine

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