'Nothing outrageous' - except a pile of old junk

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The Independent Online

No Turner Prize competition is complete without at least one piece to get the traditionalists frothing at the mouth. Yesterday, as this year's candidates were unveiled at Tate Britain in London, that honour fell to a roomful of junk.

No Turner Prize competition is complete without at least one piece to get the traditionalists frothing at the mouth. Yesterday, as this year's candidates were unveiled at Tate Britain in London, that honour fell to a roomful of junk.

Learning How To Drive, by the Japanese artist Tomoko Takahashi, comprises road signs, plastic pot-plants, bollards, a defunct photocopier, board games and worn tyres, all scattered in apparently random groups in a warehouse space. They are joined by filing cabinets and old shelves from the cellars of Tate Britain, the former Tate Gallery, in one of the most compelling exhibits in the controversial prize for modern art.

The gallery's communications curator, Simon Wilson, said the artist's work was a worthy successor to Tracey Emin's infamous bed, which featured in last year's Turner exhibition, and that it drew from a tradition of "assemblage" art, created in such movements as Dada, surrealism and pop art.

"Installation art has a very long history, making art from everyday objects, which you assemble and present until they take on new meanings," Mr Wilson said.

"It may look like a collection of junk, but I think when you come in first of all it's kind of like a Santa's grotto - it's quite magical seeing all these things together.

"[Takahashi] recently learnt to drive, and obviously driving is one of those great rites of passage in society. It was fairly traumatic for her and a major thing in her life. There are a lot of references to rules such as the Highway Code and about how society is run on all sorts of rules.

"In one section there is a whole cluster of games. The idea that life is like a game of snakes and ladders is not novel, but all these ideas are linked."

Takahashi is one of four artists whose work goes on display at the gallery from today as part of the build-up to the United Kingdom's most prominent arts award, due to be announced next month.

Last year it was Emin's work, My Bed, with its soiled sheets and piles of debris that helped to draw 140,000 people to the Turner Exhibition at the central London gallery.

The Turner has been criticised in the past for neglecting more traditional forms of art, such as painting and sculpture, in favour of video or installation, but this year painting is a major part of the contributions from two artists.

One of them, Hexham-born Glenn Brown - the only shortlisted artist born in Britain - has presented his reinterpretations of the works of other great painters.

In his 1999 painting Oscillate Wildly he stretches Salvador Dali's Autumnal Cannibalism and refines some of the features as well as removing the colours to make it just black and white.

Another work, The Tragic Conversion of Salvador Dali (after John Martin), adapts Martin's vision of the Apocalypse and replaces the ancient city of the original with a futuristic space-age city.

The other painter is the Dutch-born Michael Raedecker, who is the bookies' favourite, with William Hill putting him at 13-8 to win the prize. His work blends paint on canvas with crafts such as embroidery, which helps to give more texture and highlight the details in the work.

The last artist on the shortlist is the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans who came to prominence with his work for style magazines such as The Face and I-D. He has 57 pieces on display, which comprise a range of subject matter.

Phillip, Close-Up II, shows a man undoing his trousers and exposing his pubic area; another was taken during a solar eclipse. Mr Wilson said: "I don't think there's anything that's particularly outrageous... One of the characteristics of the modern approach to the body is that it's increasingly frank."

One of the shortlisted artists stands to collect a £20,000 prize when the winner is announced on 28 November at a ceremony inside Tate Britain, which will be televised by Channel 4.

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