Futures Trading


Left: ICA artistic director Ekow Eshun. Right: ICA chairman Alan Yentob, ICA managing director Guy Perricone, Anthony Fawcett, and Beck's sponsorship manager Chris D'Sylva. (Photos: Will Cooper Mitchell)

A speech from Institute of Contemporary Art artistic director Ekow Eshun and a six-course succession of intricate canapes that started with truffle and artichoke amuses-bouche and ended, three hours later, on port and Stilton marked the ceremony at the “Special View” for this year’s Beck’s Futures competition. Eshun spoke touchingly, if briefly, on the tenacious post-war spirit with which the ICA was founded and a continuing belief in “a better tomorrow,” but as he spoke it felt like the event at hand could do with some amping up. There were only 150 guests at this tidy, Tuesday night pre-preview on the Mall, a small fraction of the attendance at the following night’s traditional Private View, surely replete with indecorous shoving, smashed champagne flutes, and waylaid entourages. And what a curious, unshowy bunch it was, dressed down and quiet. The most notable celebrity sightings of the early going were Alan Yentob, long-serving artswallah for the BBC, his old crony Janet Street-Porter, revered commissioner of what was affectionately called “yoof” television twenty years ago, and her pal Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, and all had come and gone by the time the first treats went around. Amateurish touches from young artists punctured the musty calm, from Seb Patane obsessively adjusting the volume on his chilly, pulsing mixed-media mélange of Aleister Crowley and mountain climbing, to 2005 Futures nominee Donald Urquhart, who hadn’t bothered to RSVP, making a sweet stink in a Scots brogue at the entrance.

Left: Beck's Futures nominee Seb Patane. Right: Herald Street founder Nicky Verber. (Photos: William Pym)

Urquhart was rambunctious once he’d at last made it upstairs. “The best work here is the most derivative, so that’ll never win.” Did he mean Matt Stokes’s balletic restaging of a ’70s Northern Soul night in a Dundee church, I wondered, a film of hypnotic, comfortable familiarity? “What, the one by Mark Leckey?” he guffawed, underscoring an obvious thematic link. “I think the shoes should get it,” he eventually opined, meaning Walk a mile in my shoes, 2006, Bedwyr Williams’s tidy cubbyhole display of collected size thirteens with dangling luggage tags that detail revealing facets of the artist’s psyche. “The shoes are beyond déjŕ vu, so the judges will probably love it.” Minutes later I introduced myself to Beck’s art sponsorship consultant Anthony Fawcett, who helped conceive the competition in 1999. Both a gentle man and a powerhouse matchmaker between nascent art projects and corporate coffers, Fawcett predictably emphasized Beck’s longstanding support for the visual arts before pondering its place in the current star-making system. The company co-commissioned Rachel Whiteread’s House in 1993 after all, a work that transformed the artist’s profile almost overnight and dramatically upped the public-art ante in Britain. The stakes were not as high tonight, but intense speculation surrounded each exhibtor nonetheless.

Left: Artist Yinka Shonibare. Right: Artists Matthieu Laurette and Haluk Akakçe. (Photos: Will Cooper Mitchell)

There was, naturally, no end to the bottled Beck’s, so by 10:00 PM the contemplative early mood had vanished and the volume had greatly increased. I sought out nominee Pablo Bronstein to talk to him about his whispery architectural addition of arched doorways, which was displayed in such a way that it proved very difficult to digest. Indeed, most visitors, myself included, failed to notice his piece at all until waved towards an out-of-the-way label. Lubricated Bronstein, raffish, did not mince words. “They fucked me up the arse, unquestionably.” He laughed. “It’s all good though.” Fawcett, at this point equally high-spirited, let his spunk show with a final thought. “The Turner Prize took the idea from us of sharing the prize money among all the nominees, they stole it. And the total purse for Futures is still larger than Turner’s. Everyone really is a winner here.” Yet, as the party fizzled and everyone shuffled down the grand staircase towards the exit, it was hard to forget that one winner will be more equal than others.

Left: Beck's Futures nominee Pablo Bronstein. Right: Anthony Fawcett with founder of The Felix Trust for the Arts Dominic Palfreyman. (Photos: William Pym)

Left: Artist Godfried Donkor. Right: Curator Adam Carr and Beck's Futures nominee Stefan Brüggemann. (Photos: Will Cooper Mitchell)