An exposed non-sequitir (or, the Turner Prize 2010)

Angela de la Cruz, ‘Larger Than Life’, 2004. Image: http://www.lissongallery.com

After this year’s Turner Prize nominees (Susan Philipsz, Dexter Dalwood, Angela de la Cruz and the Otolith Group, if you didn’t know already) were announced this morning, I naturally fired up Google and had a read through some of the recent articles that have been published on the four artists’ work. I’ve always been a little ambivalent about the Prize, not always convinced that the shortlist really represents the best talent available, but similarly skeptical about the voices of reaction that tend to drown out most sensible discussion of the works involved. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: Turner naysayers complain that the Prize doesn’t live up to its stated intention of creating national debate around contemporary art, while simultaenously burying what little debate does get started under mounds of myopic, knee-jerk bullshit. Certainly, you can sympathise with Adrian Searle’s assertion in today’s article that this year’s shortlist is ‘half baked’. But his argument seems cheapened by some of the comments below it: ‘Another annual trip down Banality Road. Turner Prize winners are like Oscar winning films, at best mediocre to the more memorable, lamentable and the utterly forgettable. Can anyone remember last years winner, never mind the year before?’ writes petrifiedprozac.You don’t need to even glance at the shortlist to make a judgement like that. S/he could probably recycle this comment year after year and no-one would be any the wiser.

But the prize for most meaningless criticism goes to fellow Comment is Free user adie9. Under an earlier Searle piece, this one about de la Cruz’s ongoing solo show at Camden Arts Centre, s/he remarks:

‘pity the poor reviewer, wasting his life attempting to breathe significance into a form of ‘art’ long since exposed for what it is.’

The idea that a group of sculptures publically exhibited could be ontologically ‘unexposed’ is patently ridiculous, even without the knowledge that, in Romance languages at least, the words ‘exhibition’ and ‘expose’ share a common root (Spanish: exposición, French: exposition, Portuguese: exposição etc. etc. etc.). Still, the anti-Turner loyalists probably derive as much pleasure from this apparent ‘unveiling’ of how most contemporary art is so much bullshit as we do from ‘demonstrating’ how it actually means a great deal. I’d be happy to let them have their fun, if only they didn’t outnumber us so overwhelmingly. But who am I to dictate? My only real hope is that we as a nation never again sink so low as the ‘debate’ embedded above, surely the nadir of recent British arts commentary.

And, for what it’s worth, I back Susan Philipsz.

by Luke Healey

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4 responses to “An exposed non-sequitir (or, the Turner Prize 2010)

  1. I always really liked the principle that modern art (is this the right term? Fiddlesticks! I have already revealed my ignorance – and so early on too…) can be a cultural equaliser of sorts; the notion that full comprehension of a work of art need not rely upon knowledge of Greek mythology or religious history or apples and hats, is one which really appeals to me. I do hope this doesn’t offend modern art intellectuals; I’m well aware that my position is largely the product of my inexperience with the visual arts. Nevertheless, I think it’s quite a nice idea.

    However, in spite of the fact that a classical education may not be warranted to enjoy the pieces exhibited by the Turner Prize nominees, I find all the academic and media furore annually whipped up by the announcement of the candidates thoroughly intimidating.

    It’s a real shame that the ‘voices of reaction’ you mention in your article contribute to a downplaying and devaluation of what could be a cultural event which successfully straddles social class division.

  2. well put. to answer your concern, the turner prize would be considered a prize for ‘contemporary’ art: ‘modern’ art is a term used mainly to describe the art of the historic avant-gardes (cubism, expressionism, futurism, dadaism, surrealism etc.), through minimalism and conceptual art up to, around about, the 1980s.

  3. There seems to remain the pointless and utterlu outdated debate about what constitutes art (the fact that it is outdated can be seen to some degree in the fact that that Paxman degment must be at least ten years old). This seems to me to be what constitutes half the battle with the ‘Turner naysayers.’ I’m sure they would find it much more liberating to criticise the works they find so repugnant in terms of medium and exectution, rather that try to put forward the ridiculous idea that a piece designated as ‘art’ by it’s creator is somehow not credible as such.

    As for the banality of the shortlist, I half agree (in the sense that I enjoy and find engaging two of the four shortlisted artists). While I find Dalwood quite bland and the Otolith Group downright inpregnable, I’m quite a fan of the other two. Perhaps this is showing some bias (Philipsz has done some pretty prominant work in Glasgow), but I think i’d plump for Philipsz too. The way she captures a particular sense of personal discovery in/of her work I think is very impressive. (Not to make this a straw pole or anything!)

    I also like Angela de la Cruz, though I must say I fundamentally disagree with how her work is described on the Lisson gallery website, i.e. as ‘calm’ when in-fact I see her works as giving of an air of instability and of an innevitable and constant flux. Though I may be missing something …

  4. Pingback: Turner Prize 2011 | The Oyster's Earrings·

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