Turner Prize 2011, Baltic, Gateshead

It's never easy to predict, not least because the best artist so seldom wins. But this year's Prize is hard to call because the shortlist is so strong

This year's is the 28th annual Turner Prize show, to which you might reasonably say: so what? There have been enough of them now to know that they don't mean much.

Turner prizewinners haven't always thrived. (Where is Grenville Davey now? Come to that, who is Grenville Davey?) The big cheque has seldom gone to the best artist – I refer you to Mike Nelson and Tacita Dean – and shortlists have had a habit of being predictable, the artworld's equivalent of Buggins's turn. Worst, the Turner has favoured a certain kind of art, the sort that hogs headlines, looks good on tele-vision. Such is its power – now, thankfully, diminished – that it has pushed a generation of British artists in a single direction, pressing them to make work that catches the Turner eye; not always distinguishable from that of the Tate.

So perhaps it is that this year's Turner show is away from Tate's Millbank HQ that makes it seem less doctrinaire than usual; better, in fact. The Baltic in Gateshead has had its ups and downs, but the Turner looks happier there than it ever has in the tomb-like Tate Britain. Of course, the Tate is still behind the prize, but you wouldn't necessarily guess it. I can't recall a stronger show over the past 27 years, better chosen, better displayed, more poised or grown-up.

The problem, unusually, will be who to eliminate. Of the four short-listees, the first to go must, with a heavy heart, be Hilary Lloyd. This is not because Lloyd is a weak contender, just that the remaining three are so strong. She suffers, in this context, from making work that other people make – video installations which are also sculpture, their screens and projectors defining the spaces around them. Thus Floor is a triptych of three projections, jiggling, allusive and somehow rude. But it is also a wall of projectors, hung from the ceiling on metal units; and beyond that again, it is the tangle of flexes and adaptors that powers these things, a fringe of grunge to the glitz of film. Lloyd's work is handsome, clever, well made; but also faintly familiar, which is not a good thing in this year's Turner.

My next-longest odds would be on Martin Boyce, a good artist not at his best here. Like Lloyd's, Boyce's installation is both in the room and of it. Where the other contenders had the Baltic's iron columns covered up, Boyce has worked with them. They seem to exist for the sole purpose of holding up his ceiling-piece – a grid of white fins that feels perversely natural, like clouds or a steel tree canopy. This in turn appears to have shed the crêpe-paper leaves of his floor work. The look is theatrical, like the set for a brutalist production of The Cherry Orchard. The drama is played out by Boyce's free-standing sculptures, the most notable being Do Words Have Voices – a Calder-ish mobile made immobile by what looks like an anatomist's table. My one fear in all this is that the fortysomething Scot has tried to do too much for the Turner, that his playing-off of assemblage and artwork turns into a battle. We'll see.

I'd love it if George Shaw won, though I doubt he will. The trouble here is that Shaw's paintings are the opposite of attention-grabbing, being, on the face of it, archaically skilful. They are landscapes and cityscapes, although, being modern, they are not picturesque. Very much not: the scenes Shaw depicts are of a grungy 1950s housing estate in Coventry, the setting of his own childhood.

That is nothing new, either: the bringing of high-art techniques to low-art subjects is a favourite Postmodern game. That Shaw paints in Humbrol colours – the ones used for model aeroplanes – might also be put down to a bit of conceptual playing around, ironic nostalgia. Except that the result doesn't feel like that: it feels both new and – shock! – sincere. The sheen of Shaw's paint glazes his surface, so that we are actually looking at the deadening places he paints; a déja vu we didn't want to see, even once.

And so, to Karla Black. It is difficult to say why Black is such a great artist, and that's a good thing. Too much contemporary art sets out to be put into words. Black's room-sized Turner installation is actually two pieces, although that need not detain us. As ever, it works with colour and texture and something more – the allusive power of ordinary things, maybe. Here, as at the Venice Biennale, Black sets up a sense of the familiar unknown. Her vast construction of crumpled sugar paper and cellophane calls up all kinds of ghosts: sweetie-wrappers and pastel soap, old ladies' face powder. These things are gentle, fragile even. And yet what Black makes of them is monumental, perhaps even heroic. Of course my money's on her, so of course she won't win. There goes another tenner.

To 8 Jan (0191-478 1810)

Next Week:

Charles Darwent follows the money, and the link between cash and patronage in Paris and in Florence

Art Choice:

Tacita Dean has taken on Tate Modern's Turbine Hall; her 11-minuteinstallation, FILM, will be lighting up the space until 11 March. Andy Warhol's philosophy, work, lifestyle, and legacy for the 21st century are examined in a Tate Artists Rooms' show at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex (to 26 Feb).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone