Dust and whale skull in line for Turner Prize

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The Independent Online

A pile of dust, a whale skull and a derelict flat full of blue crystals were among works by artists hoping to win the Turner Prize on Monday, one of the world's most controversial art awards.

Enrico David, Roger Hiorns, Lucy Skaer and Richard Wright are shortlisted for the prize, to be awarded at the Tate Britain gallery in London.

The annual modern art prize gives 25,000 pounds (41,000 dollars, 28,000 euros) to the winner and 5,000 pounds to those shortlisted.

The Turner Prize, one of Europe's most prestigious for the visual arts, is renowned for rewarding controversial works. However, this year's shortlist includes artists who practice more conventional painting and drawing.

Bookmakers William Hill said Hiorns was the 10/11 overwhelming favourite to win the prize, having attracted several high bets.

"The Turner Prize has always been a controversial prize but we have never had bets even close to this size," spokesman Rupert Adams said.

"There must be a real buzz in art circles."

The prize was set up in 1984 to celebrate new developments in contemporary art. It is awarded to an artist aged under 50, born, living or working in Britain, for "an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work" in the 12 months to May.

Hiorns, 34, uses unusual materials for his installations. He transformed a London flat into a crystal cave by filling it with 90,000 litres of liquid copper sulphate which slowly crystallised. He is also nominated for turning a jet engine into a dust landscape.

Italian Enrico David, 43, is a "contemporary surrealist who creates rich and profoundly original painting, drawing and sculpture," according to Tate Britain.

His nominated work includes rocking papier mache egg-men and sinister-looking naked dolls.

Skaer, 34, makes drawings, sculptures and films, creating images often based on photographs that "hover in the space between recognition and ambiguity," Tate Britain said.

Her work includes the skull of a sperm whale which is viewed peepshow-style, as well as 26 sculptures made from coal dust.

Wright, 49, creates wall paintings combining graphic imagery and intricate patterning in works that respond to the nearby architecture. His nominated work includes a gold-leaf pattern on a wall that took three weeks to make.

Critics have argued for years about whether the award puts too much emphasis on hype over talent. Damien Hirst won in 1995 with a rotting cow's head and 1998 winner Chris Ofilie painted with elephant dung.

The 2005 winner Simon Starling, who dismantled a shed, made it into a boat, then turned it back into a shed again.

Stuckist artists, who campaign against "conceptualism" and favour traditional figurative painting, were to hold their traditional protest outside.

"The Turner Prize bears the same relationship to art as a pantomime horse does to show jumping," said the movement's co-founder Charles Thomson.

The Turner Prize 2009 exhibition will remain at Tate Britain until January 3. Entry costs eight pounds (13 dollars, nine euros).