Unmade beds and dirt laundry, elephant dung, artists dressed in drag and streakers. These are just a few of the artworks, stunts and controversy that have surrounded Tate’s Turner Prize—the prestigious and controversial annual prize awarded to a contemporary artist the jury finds to be one of the most important British (born, living or working in Britain) artists working today. Nominees are chosen for an outstanding exhibition (or other presentation of their work) shown within the last 12 months. Previous shortlist’s have included Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Martin Creed, Chris Ofili and Grayson Perry just to name a few. When talking about the Turner Prize there are so many factors to consider starting with the history of the prize and as it relates to the institution, which artists are being considered for a particular year and of course who has won in the past effecting the future. This year’s new crop of artists have been shortlisted for the 2010 award consisting of four qualified candidates, two men and two women…
Firstly we have Glasgow born Susan Philipsz (44) who is considered a sound artist. Philipsz secured her place on the shortlist with a sound work she showed in Glasgow under bridges. The installation, Lowlands (2010), compromised of her recorded voice simultaneously singing three different versions of the 16th Century lament, “Lowlands Away”, played under the Caledonian, George V and Glasgow Bridges over the Clyde specifically commissioned for the Glasgow International Festival.
Philipsz is most recognized for recording herself singing versions of pop and folk songs, which she then broadcasts in stairwells, supermarkets, and under bridges—the most talked about installation was at Tesco’s supermarket. Probably because upon first reaction, one would want to categorize her as a singer (not contemporary artist) and because of her unusual choice of venues, she is the media favorite to poke fun at. However, when considering more closely her work, one realizes Philipsz is more specifically interested in how sound defines architectural spaces and thus why she is interesting and qualified to be nominated. Her choice to sing classic folk songs illustrates her investigation of the melancholia and wistfulness of the past drawing on loss and longing while evoking the power of memory.
Painter Dexter Dalwood (49), was nominated for his recent solo exhibition at Tate St Ives which included works like, The Death of David Kelly (2008) depicting the site where government weapons expert David Kelly killed himself in 2003 during an inquiry into the Iraq conflict.
Born in Bristol, Dalwood is a painter in the traditional definition and paints “portraits” of imagined locations of famous cultural icons or of recent events in a Pop style. I qualify the word portrait because figures rarely appear in his paintings. For example, past portraits have included The Queen’s Bedroom (1998), Room 100, Chelsea Hotel (1999), which was Sid Vicious’ room at the Chelsea Hotel and site of the violent death of Nancy Spungen. He also painted Sharon Tate’s House(1998), the site of the murders by Charles Manson’s followers.
His subject matter often deals with political and social current affairs with a focus on death scenes while also heavily incorporating art-historical references. Let’s face it, history painting has and seems to always be a popular subject matter. Dalwood works through making collages of events from media representations and then painting the overall image on a canvas, further illustrating his point that history is merely a construction. Dalwood is proving to be the favorite to take home the Turner with 2-1 odds to win the prize. He is probably the most well recognized name on the shortlist and along with Gagosian Gallery representing him, “Dexter Dalwood is the obvious favorite as his work is well know and easy on the eye,” said William Hill’s (London’s premiere betting shop) spokesman Rupert Adams.
In 2005 (midway through organizing a major show in Lisbon) Angela De la Cruz (45) suffered a brain hemorrhage. While in a coma, she gave birth to her daughter and her recovery to date has been slow and sadly is unlikely to be complete. Only with the aid of assistants, in 2009 she slowly began working again. The Spanish-born artist lives and works in London where her practice straddles between painting and sculpture. She has virtually taken paintings and made them sculptures.
She applies paint to canvas but then will break, tear or fold the stretches, frames or canvas to create objects. She is not afraid to also incorporate found objects such as tables and chairs in her works.
De la Cruz’s recent solo exhibition (aptly named “After”) at The Camden Arts Centre, which secured her place on the shortlist, is bluntly questioning the “end of painting,” or perhaps more optimistically her show can been viewed as a celebration of the moving forward of painting. Either way, it is refreshing to look at her works and relish in the fact that she has already done so much “damage” to them they would be safe to come home with you! I’m going to put my money on De la Cruz to win the prize as she has always been a top favorite artist of mine as I find her work to carry an amazing emotional weight while being a sheer pleasure to look at.
The Otolith Group was founded in 2002 by Londoners Kodwo Eshun (44) and Anjalika Sagar (42) who, simply put, make futuristic films with archival media. Their work is media based, cross cultural, research intensive and collaborative. The group takes their name from the structure in the inner ear that is responsible for our sense of gravity and orientation. The group was nominated for their work, A Long Time Between Suns (2009), which took the form of two exhibitions, one at Gasworks and the second installment at The Showroom, London.
The films Otolith I and II where presented at Gasworks in March 2009 and then Otolith III was screened at the opening of The Showroom’s newly opened space in October 2009. Eshun believes that at the moment the London art scene is, “concerned with artists pursuing research rather than producing beautiful objects for art fairs.” Going by this philosophy, the Otolith Group perfectly embodies the current zeitgeist of the contemporary art scene today but in my honest opinion, I believe Otolith Group may be too theoretical and com x — and dare I say too pretentious — to be strongly backed as a winner of the prize.
A popular comment or criticism of the nominees thus far has been that they all are in their late 40’s (the prize is only eligible to artists under 50) and is this age range appropriate for a prize that is set to draw attention to new British art? Though it is a valid observation I think it is boring to focus on this particular aspect. I prefer to look more into the practices of these artists and decide on merit and quality, don’t you? Nowhere am I saying any of these artists are the “first” to do what they are doing but rather let’s consider, are they doing it the best and are they reflecting something critical in contemporary art today? Philipsz is triggering longing and melancholy in her sound works while questioning what it is to be an artist and really making herself vulnerable by using her own untrained voice in the installations. De la Cruz is tackling the pertinent question of where do we go with painting today and answers the question beautifully with her sculptures of paintings. Dalwood is taking on the tradition of History painting successfully — no small feat. And lastly, Otolith Group are proving that by delving into history and archives we could come up with a very different future and thus exploiting the relevance of our social construct to the past, present and future. Lets face it, all of the nominees are “good enough” to win so perhaps it will fall to factual differences.
Back to the topic of age, two of the last three winners have been 49 (Richard Wright in 2009 and Mark Wallinger in 2007) — this bodes well for Dexter Dalwood who is also 49. The 2009 shortlist had no film or video artists included so we may see some overcompensation by the jury to award based on that fact. Also interesting is that only three women have ever won the Turner prize though the shortlist is much more gender balanced. Jurors for the 2010 prize, led by Tate Britain Director Penelope Curtis, are Isabel Carlos, director of the Centro de Arte Moderna in Lisbon; Andrew Nairne, executive director of arts strategy for Arts Council England; Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple; and novelist and art critic Philip Hensher. William Hill have Dexter Dalwood as their 2/1 favorite to walk off with the prize, they offer 9/4 to The Otolith Group, Angela de la Cruz is 11/4 and Susan Philipsz the 16/5 outsider. But when it comes down to it all who will take home the prize and £25,000 on December 6th? With all of these standards and considerations in mind, my vote still goes to De la Cruz as the winner. Who wants to bet on the favorite anyway?
The four nominees will be exhibiting at Tate Britain 5 October 2010 – 2 January 2011.