2009 Turner Prize

Richard Wright 'no title' 2009. Photo: Sam Drake and Gabrielle Johnson, Tate Photography

Richard Wright 'no title' 2009. Photo: Sam Drake and Gabrielle Johnson, Tate Photography

2009 Turner Prize : ‘nothing less than the return of beauty to modern art’.

When the 2009 infamous Turner Prize committee announced this year’s shortlist, including Roger Hiorns, Lucy Skaer and Richard Wright, all of whom create unusually decorative and delicate pieces, it was obvious that this year was all about the ornamental and understated. After years of the bold and the brash, Enrico David was the only artist offering of an element of surrealism. Taking this into consideration, it came as no surprise when the prize was awarded to Richard Wright for his gold-leaf fresco was hailed as ‘nothing less than the return of beauty to modern art,’ by the Tate Britain.

The intricate baroque-style piece was one of four exhibits on this year’s shortlist which on the whole represented a more reflective tone to the show; contrasting with last year’s winner Mark Leckey’s pop influenced film featuring Homer Simpson. Anyone taking bets based on previous prize winners , would surely have been disappointed with Enrico David’s unsuccessful theatre of the absurd, featuring himself as the ‘egg man’, which was decidedly the most controversial piece on show.

Lucy Skaer’s skull of a sperm whale and sculptures made from reformed coal dust are distinctly minimal pieces. Skaer often uses chairs and other everyday objects in her work to infer the presence of an unseen character, or narrative. Her work is a strange kind of alchemy, in which she takes objects apart and plays with the pieces transforming them into patterns . Her prints from chairs resemble primitive hieroglyphics. Through her art a domestic object like a chair ‘becomes a kind of abstract language’ when taken apart and used as a tool for printing or writing coded messages.

Roger Hiorn continues the themes of otherworldliness and alchemy in his nominated piece Seizure, a run-down council flat entirely internally covered in crystallized copper sulphate. Transforming a dilapidated domestic situation into a cave of wonder, Hiorn creates a truly ethereal experience. His work to be found at the Turner exhibit includes a piece created by spreading dust and debris across the floor, which becomes his canvas, leaving a kind of spillage or an industrial residue.

Wright creates print like drawings, some of which resemble fading wallpaper, others which simply consist of dots, almost like Lichtenstein’s cartoon strips which simulate benday screening, a technique used in engraving. On close inspection the works consist of various patterns and abstract forms reminiscent of Rorschach inkblots. True his paintings seem more like the kind of thing found in a physiatrist’s office than in a gallery. Yet they are so much more than mere decoration; identifiable influences include Siennese medieval painting and the Tate recently announced his latest work the ‘most complex and ambitious painting to date’.

Working in the painstaking manner of old masters’, with a drawn ‘cartoon’ transferred onto the wall, before being painted with adhesive and covered in gold leaf, Wright’s entry took him four weeks to complete with help from four assistants to produce the design covering almost an entire wall (plus a small image above the gallery entrance which responds to Skaer’s sculptures).

Yet despite constant praise from gallery owner Larry Gagosian who cites Wright as being as equally important as the YBAs, Wright has never been the focus of much widespread attention, and has been consistently criticized for producing work to please ‘middle England’. In his own words “there’s no sense of ‘Richard Wright. He’s a somebody.’ I’m just a person who turns up and paints something on the wall.” That ‘something’ though, is invariably mesmerizing, a curious concurrence of opulence and minimalism, geometric with a dream like character. Art Critic, Jonathan Jones has called the effect of the piece ‘dazzling but elusive’. What heightens this feeling is the fact that Wright’s work will only last for the duration of the exhibition – after it closes, the fresco will be painted over. While this may seem bizarre, the amount of work invested being at complete odds with the time it is seen for, Wright claims to be focusing on the concept that ‘all art is mortal’. While it still survives, don’t miss this year’s Turner Prize.

The Turner Prize exhibition runs to the 3rd January 2010 at Tate Britain.

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