Should you be wondering what’s spiking interest outside York Art Gallery….

Steve Messam’s inflatable installation Portico, from a distance looking like flickering flames consuming York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, York. Copyright: York Art Gallery

WHAT exactly is that orange spiky inflatable thing nesting on York Art Gallery’s frontage all of a sudden?

The answer is Steve Messam’s Portico, one of the shortlisted works for the Aesthetica Art Prize 2022 exhibition that opens today.

The County Durham environmental artist’s temporary installation exploits colour and scale, “creating a moment of interruption in the familiar”, in the manner of These Passing Things, Messam’s series of installations for the National Trust at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, near Ripon, from last July to October.

Messam’s bold and large-scale installations “uncover layers of narrative within the landscape, drawing on existing uses of the land and architecture, reflecting an understanding of the geological, cultural and agricultural practices used to shape it”.

Messam says: “Portico changes the way people look at York Art Gallery, temporarily transforming the front of the building and the way people use the space. You can see it from the city walls, the open-top buses, and you can come sit and have your lunch outside and enjoy it too. I love how many people have been stopping to take photos already.”

Cherie Federico, Aesthetica Art Prize curator and director, says: “As a curator, installing Steve Messam’s Portico is truly inspirational. The marriage between the historic and contemporary creates a feeling of surprise, awe, and contemplation.

“You start look at the building with fresh eyes and the gallery is transformed. Portico is a surprise and makes you feel good. The bold colour and spikes ignite the imagination.”

York Museums Trust is urging people to share their photos of Portico by tagging York Art Gallery and Aesthetica Magazine on Instagram and Twitter.

The winners of the Aesthetica Art Prize – York’s international contemporary art competition, now in its 15th year – were announced last night when Baff Akoto won the main prize and Yukako Tanaka received the Emerging Artist prize.

Running until September 18 in one of York Art Gallery’s ground-floor galleries, the 2022 exhibition by the 20 finalists invites audiences to explore, discover and engage with themes from our rapidly changing world.

This year’s finalists hail from Argentina, France, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Great Britain and the United States, and their works is equally diverse, spanning painting and drawing; photography and digital art; three-dimensional design and sculpture; installation, performance and video art.

On show are works by winners Akoto and Tanaka and fellow finalists Messam; Sophie Dixon; Elise Guillaume; Rebecca Lejić-Tiernan; Sarah Maple; Guen Murroni; Bart Price; Jason Bruges Studio; Sara Choudhrey; Akihiro Boujoh; Ulf König; Marcus Lyon; Ellen Carey; Gjert Rognli; Omar Torres; Ingrid Weyland; K Young and Terrence Musekiwa.

Morgan Feely, senior curator at York Art Gallery, says: “It’s a pleasure to host the Aesthetica Art Prize 2022. I hope people will be inspired by the transformation of the exterior of the gallery and come in to see the full stunning exhibition, which is free to see.

“This year’s Aesthetica Art Prize runs alongside our new exhibition Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art. Together, they show our commitment to celebrating new art at York Art Gallery.”

Gallery opening hours are 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Admission to the Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition and the gallery’s permanent collections is free.