Annual Open 2008 @ Nottingham Castle

Just climbing the steps to this exhibition of local art gives a taste of what to expect from the Annual Open. Sitting alongside the classic aesthetic of the 17th century mansion that houses the Nottingham Castle Art Museum, between ornate windows that provide glimpses of the city, hang the dreamlike photographs of 2007 Annual Open solo exhibition prize-winner Rosalie Wiesner. Bathing dark spaces in artificial light, the former Nottingham Trent student‘s photographs offer a tantalising mix of fantasy and reality. ‘It’s Almost Always Fiction in the End’ features images of exotic Middle Eastern buildings, lit up with harsh security lights, imaginatively presented on light boxes.

The theme of old juxtaposed with new continues into this year’s exhibition. Despite the modernity of the works on show, the Annual Open has been part of the museum’s programme for 130 years. This year it features ceramics, painting, sculpture and jewellery by 263 artists from all over the East Midlands. Artists are invited to submit work with the incentive of a cash prize and the chance to have, like Wiesner, a solo exhibition at the Castle.

An innovative take on photography is achieved this year by intricate inkjet prints of woodland set against an autumn sky by both David John White and Peter Jackson. Elsewhere there is artwork with a local flavour, including paintings of a twilight Nottingham skyline, and warts and all (quite literally) sculptures of two elderly ladies reading the local paper. Comedy comes in the form of Guy Brown’s ‘School Chaise’, a standard looking orange plastic school chair ‘stretched’ to look like an institutional chaise longue. It was artistic seating too that clinched the top prize: a hanging wreathlike sculpture made of sourdough by Robert Flack, which looks like a kind of angel’s perch.

Elsewhere in the museum, you can browse the Victorian Long Gallery which houses works by such masters as LS Lowry and Richard Parkes Bonington; this seems a sharp change in pace. However the Annual Open has pervaded even this space in the form of 2006 prize-winner Simon Withers’ ‘metahang’. Turning 11 paintings back to front, Withers invites us to question what we expect from an art exhibition.

Isabel Roth


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