Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd and George Shaw: the four talented artists in the running this year, for one of the most prestigious awards for contemporary art. The Turner Prize 2011 is being held, for the first time ever outside of a Tate venue, at Gateshead’s own BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.
Since 1984, the Turner Prize has been awarded to “a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding.” Over the years, the short-listed candidates have included a wide range of highly reputable artists including Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst. However the expectations and outcomes of the Prize have varied over the years.
In the first few years of the launch of the Prize, critics disapproved of the idea of a ‘competition’ with a clear winner and believed it was demeaning to art. There was also confusion and controversy regarding the objectives of the Prize: was it an opportunity to highlight up-and-coming talent, or to commemorate more experienced and established artists? In response to these criticisms, adaptations were implemented over the years to emphasise a focus on one particular ‘outstanding exhibition’ as opposed to the lifetime contribution of an artist. As a result, the scale of the exhibition increased in 1987.
The first Turner Prize back in 1984 wasn’t short of controversy, as the winner Malcolm Morley was an unpopular choice. Morley was famously known for his photorealist style, although referring to himself as a ‘super realist’. Originally he concentrated on transferring images to canvas and evolving to a more expressionist style in the 70s, incorporating techniques such as collages into his work. However, the fact that this new British Prize had been awarded to an artist who had lived in America for 20 years and didn’t even turn up to receive his award sparked many criticisms.
In 1991, the introduction of an age limit was established, putting more emphasis on highlighting recent work. But there was criticism that this new rule had been taken too far when three artists under 30 were selected as nominees. During the decade of the 90s, the Turner Prize became nationally recognised and attracted more and more attention. In 1995, Damien Hirst’s ‘Mother and Child, Divided’ brought an unprecedented amount of visitors and dominated the headlines of the tabloids. Hirst’s sculptures displayed two halves of a calf in front of the two halves of its mother preserved in four glass-walled tanks. Similarly, Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ shocked the public and provoked strong critical responses. The piece consisted of her unmade bed surrounded by items such as empty alcohol bottles, cigarette butts, stained sheets and worn underwear. The idea being to present to her bed as art, sharing her imperfections and insecurities in her most personal space, however it is easy to see how many people found it so shocking!
The Turner Prize has also addressed strong political issues, pertinent to the current events. For example during the tense period of the Iraq war in 2004, the Prize was taken over by political themes such as Kutlug Ataman’s video installation of an Arab community who had suffered loss. Similarly, Langlands and Bell created a piece of film entitled ‘Zardad’s Dog’ on the subject of the first capital trial in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban.
Being an overly-keen art enthusiast myself, I joined the opening night queue to be among the first to view the nominees of the 2011 Turner Prize exhibition at the Baltic gallery in October. But the question remains: who will emerge as the victor? Will it be Karla Black with her sculptures and installations using everyday materials? Martin Boyce with his interactive landscapes? Or will it be Hilary Lloyd and her slow moving film images? My personal choice for the 2011 winner would be George Shaw’s ‘The Sly and Unseen Day’, as his paintings from his childhood of the Tile Hill council estate in Coventry create a powerful and emotive response. Also, his use of Humbrol enamel gives his work a more unique and realistic appearance and adds sentiment to the paintings.
So if you fancy a cultured day out in Newcastle, head down to the Baltic from now until the 8th January to see the short-listed artists and decide who the worthy winner is for yourself!