Kurt Beers, founder and director of BEERS London gallery, discusses his new book '100 Sculptors of Tomorrow' that celebrates and sculpture and opens up the definition of the medium.
How would you describe 100 Sculptors of Tomorrow?
100 Sculptors is ultimately a celebration of art. It is at once a project, a movement, a publication, and in many respects a fraternity linking this very diverse group of extremely talented artists. After the first book, 100 Painters (2014), I felt that we would be remiss if we didn’t pursue the possibility of creating a legacy of books. I see this as something that is bigger than the sum of its parts; and the possibilities for both the book and the trajectory of the artists included is limitless. It would be a misconception to say that ‘this is it, these are the only important artists’ but rather, this is about providing a cross-section, a sampling of what is happening now in sculpture across the globe. From small, table-top sculpture like Damian Hoar de Galvan to monolithic land-art performance works of Emmanuel Tovar, we wanted to broaden the definition of sculpture for a 21st century audience, and redefine what sculpture means, and how it can be received. I see a lot of joy in the book, and what we realized (just like with the first book) we discovered such a breadth and diversity within what we perceive as sculpture.
You’ve mentioned that with this book you’d like to open the definition of sculpture, how would you define sculpture in 2019?
The word that comes to mind is possibility. I don’t think that’s as abstract an answer as it may seem at first, because the book takes the reader on a journey – and every time I open the book I myself find something new, something enticing. I think in this world that we live in, putting down more parameters is so antithetical to what ‘art’ purports to be about, so the book is about blowing those categorizations wide open. I am compelled to think of Rachel Ara’s self-evaluating art-work, or EJ Hill’s ‘rollercoasters’ that comment on race and identity, to the sound art of Haroon Mirza. I think we tend to think quite narrowly about the disciplines in art, but really, as we quickly decided when doing the first book, we wanted to think broadly, approach the classification like a funnel, and allow ourselves to be inclusive. We have textile, performance, sound, even ecologically conscious art. Not everything included has to be monumental or life-changing, but the work throughout is playful, intelligent, thoughtful, comprehensive, and surprising.
How did you learn of some of the artists featured in this book?
When doing the first book, (my first book) I learned a lot. I was put through the ringer in terms of learning not only how to write and publish a book, but how to cast, catalogue, and critique an entire seemingly endless catalogue of art. It is in no sense a small feat, but we wanted to create what we called a ‘water-tight’ system that would be above criticism or flaws in the process itself. That was a very important ethos that guided us throughout, and I am and was grateful for what the Commissioning Editor at the time taught me. But in retrospect, there was a certain shortcoming in that process, because all the artists from the first book were gathered through the open call. I think in lessening those restraints somewhat, we came out with a stronger product. Yes, we still conducted an open call. And at least 50% of the artists within the book were included via that avenue. But as the author, I wanted a greater say in who would be included. I also wanted to further empower my jury, so they were also asked to submit names, I think around 10 names each. Finally, I felt the book would benefit if, during the course of its creation, I was able to see a deserving artist and put their name forward. I also had my ‘headhunters’ who would literally go out to fairs, exhibitions, and keep their ears to the ground and their eyes peeled and report back to me. One of my painters, Andrew Salgado, found both Genesis Belanger and Molly Larkey at NADA New York this way. And it was important to me to have the freedom and flexibility to include deserving artists – distinct from a so-called ‘democratic’ process. Its funny, I have a background in Canadian Politics, where I worked for about a decade, and I didn’t want this process to be political. I wanted to make a good book. And I’m incredibly proud of the outcome this time around.
How did you select which artists made the cut?
This is perhaps the most complex stage, apart from writing. And as I mentioned a bit above, I had more control this time around. Ultimately, we wanted to make a strong book, but given the names we have, it goes to the jury, and there is a combination of a ‘first-past the post’ voting system, combined with a healthy dose of logic… So we have to consider a number of factors: international diversity; male/female split (there are even a few gender binary artists in this book); the kind of work (we can’t have, say, all found-object work); and last but not least, it has to be editorially pleasing. The jury has an important say, of course, but there were executive decisions that had to be made, while remaining as impartial and non-biased as possible.
The jury members were incredible, including Clare Lilley, Director of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park; Anita Zabludowicz, collector and philanthropist, Natalie King, Australian curator and Joshua Jiang, Head of Research at School of Art and Director of the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts at Birmingham University to name but a few. (More information about all the jurors can be found on our site)
You’ve mentioned that two of the artists featured in this book were ‘plucked from Instagram’. Do you feel that social media, in particular Instagram, has transformed the art world?
At least two; off the top of my head Mark Whalen and Josh Sperling. I think we are fortunate today to have a constant feed of visual information in the form of Instagram. If used properly, absolutely, its a radical, wonderfully effective tool for the dissemination and discovery of art.
What were some of the surprising things you found when compiling this book?
A lot of found-object art, firstly. A lot of people working in very conscientious, heavily scientific methods that at times would simply boggle my mind. Rachel Ara, Kader Attia, Rachael Champion, Haroon Mirza, Euyoung Hong, or Olaniyi Akindiya… these aren’t artists with ‘technologically’ or complex machinic ideas but rather dense, complex historicities surrounding their work and ethos, that at times proved very difficult to … whittle down, shall we say, into palatable entries. The problem is how to accurately paraphrase what they are doing in a brief write up is very challenging. You don’t ever want to include an artist and then do them a disservice by under-explaining their thought processes. Further, geography plays a large part: I don’t think its surprising that many artists from more ‘privileged’ countries talk about materiality, whereas like Rushdi Anwar (Kurdistan/Iraq), Catalin Badaru (Romania), Haffendi Anuar (Malaysia), Saad Qureshi (Pakistan), Tuan Andrew Nguyen (Vietnam), Beili Liu (China), Serge Attukwei Clottey (Ghana), are concerned with contentious, polemic political ideas and powerful statements. I also found that I ended up loving some things I originally thought I didn’t like. Knowledge is a powerful thing, and suddenly you get an understanding of what this artist is actually talking about, and I would respond differently to it. I think sculpture is a slower burn that painting. A harder sell, but incredibly powerful medium. Virginia Leonard is one powerful example…her work is so poignant and personal… But you’ll have to pick up the book to read about her journey.
What input can the lesser known artists featured expect to see post publication?
Well, I can’t promise anything but after the first book, Michael Armitage was picked up by White Cube, almost overnight. So these things happen.
Which sculptor featured in this book in this book should be one to watch?
Wow. That’s a loaded question, isn’t it. Nathan Mabry, our ‘coverboy’ is on the cusp of being too ‘big’ for the book. We will be showing with Sebastian Neeb in December at Beers London, the gallery I operate. But realistically, they’re all ones to watch, that’s why they’re in the book!