One of the best-known graduate art shows in the country opens tonight at the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art. Hatched is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and has again attracted a vibrant field of 35 of the country’s most promising talents.

The woman responsible for coordinating and curating the exhibition is PICA curator Leigh Robb. “We just did a count of how many artists that have been through since it started in 1992 and there are 1089 artists that have shown, selected and exhibited in Hatched. It’s a really impressive role call of artists that you can see have gone on to become very well known in Australia and internationally,” Robb told Crikey in a phone interview yesterday in the frenetic lead-up to tonight’s opening.

Some of Hatched‘s more distinguished alumni include Shaun Gladwell, David Noonan, Raquel Ormella and Sean Cordeiro. “David Noonan, he showed in Nicolas Bourriaud’s exhibition at the Tate triennial which is quite a prestigious thing, and he’s doing very well,” said Robb.

This year’s exhibition marks the third year in which PICA has engaged a selection panel; before 2009, art schools themselves nominated exhibiting artists. “We’ve bought together a selection panel which consists of Thomas Rentmeister, he’s a really well-known German artist that we’re going to work on with a solo show in 2012, Jan Duffy, program director of the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts, Oliver Watts, one of the co-directors of Chalk Horse in Sydney, and myself.”

While the big prize is the $35,000 Dr Harold Schenberg Art Prize, the real value of the show is the opportunity it gives to bring some of the country’s most interesting art school graduates in one show. While some artists will seek representation at big galleries, others may get involved in Australia’s exploding scene of artist-run initiatives.

“In Australia and globally the ecology of the art world has really changed in the last 10 – 15 years. There are a huge amount of artist-run spaces as well as more commercial galleries which offer opportunities,” said Robb.

She told Crikey this year’s exhibition is notable for its more politically engaged content: “What was interesting last year was there tended to be this cluster of introverted processes and contained structures like small houses and cells. This year I was quite pleased to see an interest in broader political issues.

“So there’s an artist called Ryan Presley who’s made these really exquisite, beautifully rendered water-colours of Australian banknotes (below). All of the known faces have been changed for leading indigenous figures, and then even some of the designs have also been changed and they’re really striking.

“There’s a fantastic series of 28 paintings by an artist called Brooke Waldvogel and its called Stuff and Shit. They’re quite small acrylic-on-board paintings — they’re just a bit bigger than postage stamp size — and they’re very clever grabs of different comments that she’s either overheard, found on media, found online or on TV. It really gets under the skin of what Australian pop culture is.”

Robb also points to the work of Michal Wojtowicz, whose installation Ginger Swan is a kind of tooth-brushing contraption. “There’s something quite anthropomorphic because it is called the Ginger Swan, but there’s something elegant about it as well, there’s all these industrial rusty car parts and bits of found material that are working towards a toothbrushing machine.”

Robb, whose  impressive resume includes stints at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and London’s Thomas Dane Gallery as well as a Masters in Art History at the prestigious Courtauld Institue of Art in London, is well-placed to understand emerging Australian art in an international context.

“I think it’s interesting because you automatically make comparisons from where you’ve come from and I guess one of the reasons I wanted to come back was seeing a lot of biennales and triennials and art fairs overseas, and knowing how good some of the Australian artists are,” she said. “Coming to WA — it’s been a fantastic experience, I’ve been reacquainting myself but also engaging with some of the emerging practice going on around Australia; there’s some really incredible artists, some really challenging artists.”

Robb found the themes of many of the 72 artists who submitted to this year’s exhibition especially interesting: “I was expecting a lot of new media, but a lot of the artists we looked at, there was a real interest in the hand-made, in slow, ephemeral, labour-intensive practices, a lot of them were using very simple materials — rather than YouTube culture.

“It is a survey of what’s on the minds of our future artists.”

Hatched opens tonight at PICA in Perth and runs until June 6.

Peter Fray

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