Turner Prize 2010, Tate Britain, London
This year's competition is more than usually rational and really rather good, but please, can we skip the tedious theorising – just once before I die?
Sunday 10 October 2010
So here's a thing about the Turner Prize.
Each year, contestants are nominated for a body of work made in that year: in 2009, Roger Hiorns was chosen for a wonderful installation called Seizure, in which he had filled an entire south-London council flat with copper sulphate solution and left it to crystallise. But here's the problem. Seizure was immovable, in all practical terms irreplicable and, in any case, site specific. Hiorns was thus represented in the Turner show by other (and, it must be said, less wonderful) work, and didn't win. Whether all – or any – of the judges had seen Seizure I cannot say, never mind the visitors who trooped through the show. To see the work for which Lucy Skaer was shortlisted, they would have had to go to the Kunsthalle in Basel. She, too, lost. Does this strike you as fair? Answers in 100 words or fewer, please.
So one of the happy things about this year's Turner show is that there is every chance you will have experienced the work in it as it was meant to be experienced. True, hearing Susan Philipsz's Lowlands in a whitewashed cuboid at Tate Britain is by no means the same thing as coming across it keening under the arches of a pissy Glasgow bridge. But, roughly at least, all of the artists are represented by the works for which they were nominated, which, if nothing else, seems more than usually rational.
And, bar the Otolith Group's, that work is pretty good. Just as I hope to see before I die a Summer Exhibition in which there are no watercolours of Venice, so I look forward to the day when Turner Prize catalogues are free from phrases such as "the collaborative and discursive practice of [insert name] questions the nature of documentary history across time by using material found within a range of disciplines". I mean, really: need I go on? For once we can't blame Goldsmiths for this tedious theorising, the Group's two members having apparently studied English and anthropology at perfectly sensible colleges. But it has stood them in no good stead, their work consisting of predictable banks of TV monitors surmounted by predictably meaningful wall texts: "To philosophise is to ask oneself: what should I think? Cornelius Castoriadis." Oh please, give me a break.
Having heard Philipsz's Lowlands in situ and in Glasgow, I can say that the soundwork's mournful power is surprisingly undiminished by its trip south. Under a Clyde bridge, the piece – the artist singing a 16th-century lament, a cappella, on a three-part loop – seemed to raise specific Scottish ghosts. Here in London, it is more abstract and formal: to sit between Philipsz's speakers is to feel sound as solid and void, silence as loss. The biggest problem may be the ability of Lowlands to stand up to visitor numbers, its aesthetic being at heart a lonesome one. Pick a quiet time.
I enjoyed Dexter Dalwood's show at Tate St Ives, and liked works such as Burroughs in Tangiers just as much second time around. At first glance, Dalwood looks to be the inheritor of Richard Hamilton, his images starting from collage and transferring to good, old-fashioned oil on canvas. Actually, his politics are more subtle than Hamilton's and his strategy different. You might think of Dalwood as a history painter, his interest being in the way images evolve. Like Burroughs, Matisse worked in Tangiers, and the old Fauve is quoted in Dalwood's picture, both directly in the shuttered window to the left of the canvas and indirectly in the flattening and fragmentation of its image into blocks of pattern and colour. Which is to say that Burroughs in Tangiers is not an imagining of the novelist in the city so much as an imagining of that imagining.
My only fear for Dalwood's chances in this year's prize is that the judges also seemed to have liked the Otolith Group, which may make him too painterly for their esoteric tastes.
Finally, there is Angela de la Cruz, whose work I actually preferred in this show to first time around. There is less of it, for one thing, and their single Tate room allows De la Cruz's deadpan objects to talk among themselves in a way they couldn't at the Camden Arts Centre. This is handy, since her art is about the sliding scale between familiarity and abstraction, between one thing being a black-painted box and another a filing cabinet. Could she win? I'd clap.
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