The Turner Prize Show Is On. Where's All The Fuss
The controversy surrounding the Turner Prize has
become so customary that its absence this year is resounding. Hoo-ha in
the past has included whether the shortlist is too old guard or male
orientated, to whether placing animals in formaldehyde is anything from
immoral to taking art too far. Media coverage peaked last year when two
art students wore Tracey Emin's knickers as balaclavas while dancing on
her work My Bed. And this year? All quiet. The pre-show hype has
been comparatively low-key probably because the work is so accessable.
This year's shortlist for the award is comprised of a photographer,
Wolfgang Tillmans; two painters, Glenn Brown and Michael
Raedecker; and installationist Tomoko Takahashi, who despite
constructing her work from rubbish, has drawn no major flak.
The show opens with Wolfgang Tillmans's photographs
about the unremarkable. A tree forms in the skin on a cup of coffee, a dog
jumps, a tube seat awaits a passenger, somebody's perineum is on closer
inspection a wooden surface bridged by a pair of shorts. Tillmans has
arranged his fleeting moments all over the walls in 19th Century style
rather than lining them up in an eye-level row, which reflects the
disorderly connectedness in his subjects. The overall effect is optimistic
and innocent. Greying, crushed up snow on the pavement gets no less
sentimental treatment than pregnancy, armpits or marks in
Moving from the sweet to the sickly sweet, Glenn Brown
makes photo-realistic paintings by mixing together reproductions of other
artists' work. The Ever Popular Dead (painting for Ian Curtis) After
Adolf Schaller sums up the exhaustion in Brown's work. Dedicating it
to Joy Division's suicide front-man seems to fit with the Van Goghian
swirls of colour in this bleak landscape that's like the surface of a
brain coated with anemones. Taking this interior landscape idea further,
and the pop references, Oscillate Wildly is a virtually monochrome
copy of a Dali half-human, self-torturing creature sitting on a barren
plain. The title's reference to that cheery popster Morrisey is typical of
Brown's cultural (or acultural you might protest!) layering. His Frank
Aurbach portraits have a raging, putrid fleshiness that has you wonder
where their buyers hang them.
Tomoko Takahashi had an installation in the Saatchi
Gallery last year within which I noticed a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer
from the eighties. Where on earth does she get her materials from? I
suspect there's a strategy in this, as the installation in this show has a
motoring bent. Bits of Scalextrics lie among traffic cones and signage.
Some of the objects are interesting but the guide-marks on the floor that
don't guide leave you wondering "So what?" Then you turn to the blurb on
the wall for guidance. It says her work is "Characterised by a tension
between order and chaos, containment and disintegration." It feels more
about the kind of legacy we're building.
Raedecker paints huge landscapes with minimal
features. Some have contour lines as if they were maps, some have features
hard to identify. Within these are areas stitched with various threads,
including wool, so an element of relief becomes the only hint at
three-dimensionality. Without humans or animals, solitude dominates. The
understated and sometimes even grey colour brings the solitude nearer to
"So Who Do You Think Will Win The Turner Prize
This show puts you in the unique position where
instead of just taking it in you compare one artist against another. This
is like comparing apples with oranges. But I'll nail my colours to the
mast. I hope that the Tillmans unfashionable sentimentality will come out
on top of the cleverness of the other three.
This year's selection has a straightforwardness that
should bring in a large audience. Judging by the attendance though, and
it'll sound like I'm harping on about it, I think Tate Britain is among
the venues overshadowed by the new Tate Modern, which is a pity for those
missing what is ironically a Turner Prize shortlist that couldn't have a
broader appeal. In fact, I wonder if this broader appeal is any
coincidence? Nothing like a bit of competition, even if it is from your
own kids. Surely this is where the all fuss has gone?
29/11/00 Late Turner Prize Scandal!
The fuss finally came along just before the golden envelope was opened. Glenn
Brown, the painter who mixes reproductions of different paintings has,
it may surprise you, reproduced someone's painting. Well whatever next!
The Loves of the Shepherds (after Tony Roberts) is apparently based
on a work by someone called Tony Roberts. He is understood to be anything
from furious to amused, depending on whether the publication reporting the
'news' is pro or anti-Turner Prize.
Speaking of anti-Turner Prize, a group of publicity hijackers, erm, I mean, a group of
artists keen to sell their wares called the Stuckists, have
picketed the ceremony and cast their verdict on the work of the eventual
winner, Wolfgang Tillmans - 'Art is art, photography is
photography'. This reminds me. When I was a member of the Edmonton Camera
Club, we once had an evening called 'Ask the experts', which I hasten to
add was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Various questions were put to the panel
about film processing, filtration and whatnot. I managed to split the club
roughly down the middle by asking 'Is photography art?' Asked the same
question back, I said that I didn't know what art is. Perhaps the
Stuckists should put the world out of misery by answering this
unanswerable. What do you think?
The Turner Prize exhibition is at Tate Britain,
Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG - 020 7887 8000
Until 14th January 2001
Review copyright Jeff Lee