Each year I pay a visit to the Turner Prize at Tate Britain to experience the sheer exhilaration of blinding rage. Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect.. but I do usually experience mild irritation.
2010 brought us the likes of; Gauguin: Maker of Myth, Henry Moore, Richard Hamilton: Modern Moral Matters, Sally Mann, Picasso: The Mediterranean Years, Alice Neel and of course not forgetting annual events such as Frieze Art Fair and The BP Portrait Award. However, the Turner Prize appears to be the only major national arts event that has successfully wriggled it’s way into mainstream culture – as the general public appear to take great pleasure in criticizing the works of it’s latest nominees. Who could resist the opportunity to pass comment on Tracey Emin’s ‘99 entry My Bed for example?
The purpose of the Turner Prize is to provide a platform for contemporary British artists (under the age of 50) to showcase their work and to further fuel the “is this art?” debate. Of course the Turner Prize is indeed highly successful in both of these aims however as a young British artist myself I find it’s annual selection of bourgeois conceptual ‘art’ both stale and indistinguishable from one year to the next. As accessible as the Turner Prize believes itself to be it is simply yet another patronizing and high brow British institution.
Well, you can imagine my surprise when in 2009 I actually found myself sincerely appreciating the works of Lucy Skaer. Initially Skaer’s sculptures were unavoidably striking however it was the curved wall mounted drawing with it’s excessive attention to detail and velvet-like surface that really demanded my attention. So when it came time for my visit to the Turner Prize 2010 I made a conscious decision to be a little more open minded (much like every year actually).
After recovering from the initial shock of discovering that a painter had infiltrated an art prize frequently dominated by conceptual art I was quickly dissatisfied. As comforting as it was to see a traditional medium such as oil painting featured in the Turner Prize I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the work of Dexter Dalwood. When in the presence of Dalwood’s paintings I experienced something that could only be described as claustrophobia. One lifeless vacuum packed scene after another.
Having spent two months prior to the opening of the Turner Prize invigilating the works of Angela de la Cruz on behalf of a London arts centre I’d had plenty of opportunities to become familiar with the work of this artist. The selection of De la Cruz’s work which was featured in the Turner Prize is very similar to the other works I have previously seen. As sculptural installations I find De la Cruz’s pieces agreeable and tactile (I wanna rub ‘em and jump on ‘em) but it does make me wonder where exactly De La Cruz’s practice can go from here.
Upon stepping into the darkened installation space of nominee’s The Otolith Group I immediately dived into a chair and clapped on some headphones. Within minutes I realised that despite having focused solely on the television screen and having read all of the subtitled dialogue I had absolutely no recollection of what I had just watched or indeed the subject matter. I shuffled from seat to seat trying to absorb the content of different films with very little luck and then took to scanning the room to gauge the reactions of other visitors. Lots of faces turned to screens with stern looks of concentration and not a single person mimicking my own baffled expression. Four months on, after conducting some basic online research into The Otolith Group I am still no clearer.
Of course there could only be one winner and the winner of Turner Prize 2010 was of course Susan Philipsz for her singing sound installation. I would say Philipsz’s installation produced the biggest emotional reaction I had experienced throughout my visit – pure hysteria. Perhaps it was the two cups of coffee I’d had prior to my visit but I found myself giggling loudly and uncontrollably (ruining the experience for other visitors simultaneously). There I was, sat on a hard wooden bench, listening to ropey female vocals pour outwards from speakers, in a blindingly white room thinking ‘is this art?’
Ah well, there’s always next year eh?