Has the Turner Prize grown up?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

There's no faeces, and remarkably little attention-seeking. Instead of the shock effects of years gone by, the 2013 exhibition that opened yesterday offers accomplished and thoughtful art, says Zoe Pilger

"How will you REACT?" The words greet the visitor to this year's Turner Prize, written on a poster, accompanied by a photograph of a stunned child. It hangs outside the former military barracks that have been transformed into a gallery space for the occasion, and comes into view as you walk across the Peace Bridge, over the river that once symbolically divided Derry-Londonderry, or just Legenderry, as the locals are proud of calling it.

The Turner Prize is perhaps most famous for trying – sometimes desperately – to elicit a reaction from its visitors. Last year, there was Paul Noble's sculptures of faeces and the ad-hoc performance art of Spartacus Chetwynd, renowned for living in a nudist colony.

This year's exhibition is better. It is more mature – perhaps with the exception of David Shrigley's installation – and less of a spectacle. Rather than attention-seeking zaniness, many of the works here are rooted in skill, craft, and subtlety.

From painting to film to installation to performance to a "constructed situation", the four shortlisted artists have created works that require thoughtfulness from the viewer, albeit in radically different ways. Too often, the Turner Prize is held up as proof that contemporary art really is a load of rubbish. This year, it proves the opposite: there is some exceptional art here.

This is the first time the prize has been held outside England, and Derry – as City of Culture 2013 – has done a fantastic job. Awarded every year to a British artist under 50 years old for an outstanding exhibition in the past 12 months, the prize money is £25,000. Each runner-up will receive £5,000.

The work that I love the most this year is Wantee (2013) by French-born Laure Prouvost, 35. The immersive film installation is based on the life of her fictional grandfather, supposedly a close friend of the German artist Kurt Schwhitters.

The viewer enters a dimly lit scruffily artistic dining room, complete with teapots shaped like cushiony bums and teacups painted with bright-red lipsticked mouths. There is a sense that the crockery could start talking to you, or trying to seduce you.

Indeed, Prouvost is a seductive artist. The film that accompanies the installation is sensual and difficult to fathom. Images of the aforementioned teacups are spliced with shots of the vividly green English countryside outside the window of the comfortably disarranged and tatty bohemian house in which her fictional grandfather, who was a conceptual artist, ostensibly lived.

Prouvost's breathy French voice-over is irresistible; so, too, is her poetic rambling narrative, her swerves into abstraction, her seeming joy in the medium of film itself. The work is enchanting without being fey.

How does she do it? I could easily hate all the components here: nostalgia, a fetish for pretty and ruined things. The film could be horrendously girly; it isn't. The narrative that Prouvost constructs is dark and strange, offsetting the sweetness. It transpires that her fictional grandfather created a "last concept" before he died: an escape hatch in the floor of the house. He began to tunnel one day, and never came back.

In a room to the right of the gallery, the bohemian mess has been replaced by chintz pink carpet and matching walls. The viewer can watch a video of Prouvost's fictional grandmother's dream, which includes an aeroplane that can pour tea from the sky, but focuses mainly on her wish for Prouvost's grandfather to love her forever. It is charming. The narrative is fragmented, but the meaning remains intact.

My second favourite series of works here is by London-based British Ghanaian artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, 35. These large oil paintings show imaginary figures in scenes that hint at narratives which are never revealed. Yiadom-Boakye paints from imagination, memory, and a range of sources, but the precision of each face points to characters who seem nuanced and real.

All her subjects are black. The colour of their skin poses a challenge to the history of classical Western portraiture, which Yiadom-Boakye draws upon. The paintings appear to be historical scenes of escape and survival. They show men hunting, dressing quickly in a forest clearing, staring confrontationally out of the canvas.

Perhaps most striking is Bound Over to Keep the Faith (2011), which shows a man in profile, smiling. His expression might be cavalier or humiliated. He is perhaps on the verge of manic laughter, but his eyes are sad. Or are they?

A thin rope snakes round his waist and he wears a shockingly white long-sleeved T-shirt, which is stark and abrasive and cold against the rich lushness of the dark brown background. Indeed, it is Yiadom-Boakye's skill as a painter that makes you want to look at her work for as long as possible. She has successfully brought back the outmoded genre of portraiture while making it knowing and aloof enough to satisfy the irony-mad conceptual art market.

Instead of paintings or sculptures, British-German artist Tino Sehgal's work consists of real people in matching black outfits, ranging from young to old, hanging around in an empty room. They greet me in a friendly and slightly cultish way, as though trying to convert me to some obscure cause.

One young man steps forward and informs me that he will give me £2 if I talk to him about the free-market economy. I say fine. He is very nice and good-looking. Our conversation becomes more flirtatious as we meander through subjects ranging from the welfare state and the mixed economy, to private education, and why communism might not be desirable.

I ask him how he knows so much about politics and he says he has degrees in history and international relations. The experience is fun and he is charming. I earn my £2, but then forget to claim it from the gift shop downstairs.

Sehgal, 37, is known for his "constructed situations", which star members of the public rather than actors. I'm not convinced by Sehgal; his work is minimalist, elusive, seemingly rooted in the ordinary occurrence of people talking to each other, but for me this points to a kind of arrogance. So we're talking about the market economy. So what? The exchange in itself is neither poignant nor banal.

Sehgal forbids documentation of his "situations"; his phenomenal success seems as much due to the mystery with which he surrounds himself as the content of the work. While Prouvost seduces by offering a visual superabundance, Sehgal withholds.

Perhaps the work most typical of Turner Prize puerility is David Shrigley's Life Model (2012), an installation which includes a giant, grotesque, malformed, naked figure in the centre of the room, surrounded on all sides by chairs and easels. There are crayons and pencils; visitors are encouraged to draw the figure, who has cartoonish blue eyes and large ears. His disproportionately small penis is pointed downwards into a bucket. Every so often, he pisses into it and blinks mechanically.

Shrigley, 45, is known for his dryly comic drawings. Different attempts at capturing the figure's hideousness already cover the gallery walls. Failure is inevitable in this peculiar, lurid life-drawing class. As Shrigley has pointed out, the figure is anatomically incorrect so even a perfect drawing will look wrong. Shrigley embraces the liberating potential of making mistakes. While I can appreciate the inclusiveness and fun of the work, it suggests a less well rendered Ron Mueck.

It would be a shame if Shrigley wins because this year's shortlisted artists seem unafraid for once of taking themselves and their art seriously, and, in turn, they ask the viewer to do the same. On the other hand, Sehgal's work takes itself a bit too seriously. Yiadom-Boakye is a wonderful painter, but I think Prouvost's delightful and generous story-telling would be a rightful winner.

Turner Prize 2013, Ebrington Barracks, Derry-Londonderry (turnerprize2013.org) to 5 January

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss