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
Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game