The four shortlisted nominees for the Turner Prize have been announced and the exhibition is now open at the Tate Britain; that weighty, dignified and elegant building on the banks of the Thames. The prize is synonymous with controversy, exaggerated media hysterics and outraged visitors who claim to be able to do better themselves. It was set up in 1984 to showcase the best in British contemporary art whilst bringing it to a wide audience. The winner receives a £25,000 prize, and kudos within the art community: it is considered the most prestigious prize in Europe. The list of winners from previous years is dominated by Young British Artists, many now household names and influential cultural figures.
Dexter Dalwood, a painter who was briefly associated with Charles Saatchi’s flash in the pan movement of “neurotic realism”, is one of the finalists this year. He directly quotes other artists work and produces “visual testaments to individual moments in history”. There is the dark muted scene of a tree silhouetted by a luminous moon named “the death of David Kelly”, which captures the ominous Oxfordshire location of Kelly’s suicide, and yet leaves the protagonist from the scene. “White Flag” references Jasper John’s painting of the same name and depicts a scene from the Iraq war.
Also nominated is Angela De La Cruz, a Spanish artist who has lived in the UK for 20 years. She produces conceptual pieces that “let in the muck of everyday life”; they often look like works in progress. Crumpled canvases in bright yellow, pink and red fill her room in the exhibition and murk the boundary between sculpture and painting.
Let us hope Britain can maintain her cultural climate as one of the best in the world
There is the Scottish artist Susan Phillipsz, whose sound installation of her singing a traditional Scottish folk song was originally shown under a bridge in Glasgow.
Finally, there is a series of thirteen television screens showing films by the artists Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar, known collectively as The Otolith Group. The dominating aspect of their work is a film about a young Bengali boy meeting a kindly extra-terrestrial being. They unite scenes in contemporary British London with authentic Hollywood and Indian films.
Another artist worthy of note is Cornelia Parker, who has created a work commenting directly on the arts and culture cuts. She has produced a photo montage of Antony Gormley’s “Angel of the North” with its left wing severed, symbolizing the expected 40% cuts to blight the culture budget. She is part of a group named ‘Save the Artists’ that has written a letter and petition to the new Minister for Culture imploring him not to slash funds. The group has enlisted high profile names such as Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst and David Hockney.
As we welcome a new academic year, I am conscious of all the people who have graduated from Fine Art degrees and are about to bear the brunt of the blustering economic climate. Let us hope that the cuts are not too devastating, and Britain can maintain her cultural climate that is one of the best in the world.