Review: Artes Mundi 4 at National Museum Cardiff

Photographic work by Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev

Exhibition: Artes Mundi 4: Wales International Visual Art Exhibition and Prize, National Museum Cardiff, until June 6 2010

Olga Chernysheva’s photos of a natural history museum in Moscow can now, by a strange quirk of fate, be seen in a natural history museum in Wales. But the scenes captured by the Russian artist are a world away from those encountered by visitors to National Museum Cardiff.

The Welsh museum and gallery is a vibrant, welcoming, and forward-looking venue. While Muscovites can apparently expect empty lobbies, cluttered displays and sleepy attendants.

Chernysheva’s scenes are static, monochrome and quietly amusing. Like all the shortlisted artists in the fourth Artes Mundi prize, she reminds us that the world has four corners, rather than one, and art can come from any of them.

Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev, from Kyrgyzstan, bring to light another alien environment: the barren trails which criss-cross their little known homeland to the West of China and the North of Afghanistan, otherwise known as the Silk Road.

Their photographic subjects include a clothes stall, which makes Romford market look like Selfridges, and a one-room hotel shack with a horse parked in the cab rank. A multi-channel film shows local scrap metal dealers driving groaning trucks back and forth along the rocky roads in a relentless quest to make a living.

International trade is also given attention by Fernando Bryce, with a focus on the very origins of global capitalism. The Peruvian artist is technically impressive, taking news articles and advertising materials from the turn of the 20th century and reworking them as illustrated pages from a comic book history of the world.

His painstaking images and texts fill a sizeable gallery and render long-past events as fresh as his ubiquitous Indian ink, which also gives his grand narrative a fictional look and feel. Our current state of affairs seems all at once precarious, or at least arbitrary.

Yael Bartana, Ergin Çavusoglu, Chen Chieh-jen and Adrian Paci are the four other artists in the show. So perspectives come from Israel, Bulgaria, Taiwan and Albania respectively.

Such work from outside Britain and the US may not have the panache of, say, a cast aluminium lobster by Jeff Koons, but its concerns may be more pressing. It demands no less of your attention.

Written for Culture24.

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