Tears and tinsel set the tone for Turner Prize shortlist

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The Independent Online
THE RADICAL young artist Chris Ofili's painting of a black woman shedding tears - each containing a picture of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence - is one of the most striking pieces in this year's Turner Prize exhibition at the Tate Gallery.

The exhibition of the four shortlisted artists for contemporary art's most prestigious prize contains the predictably provocative mix of video films, cryptic pseudo-sexual installations and, in the case of Mr Ofili, a comic-book hero made of elephant dung.

But it is another, more traditional painting by the black artist which catches the eye. Called No Woman No Cry, it was intended to portray universal grief and suffering with particular attention, as in much of his work, to the black community. But as he worked on it this summer, Mr Ofili became increasingly aware of the Lawrence inquiry and, according to Tate curator Virginia Button, aware of the image of Stephen Lawrence's mother, Doreen, in tears and suffused with grief. He drew this into the painting, in which every falling tear contains a photograph of Stephen.

"Chris followed the coverage of the inquiry and Mrs Lawrence would always be there, weeping," said Ms Button, "and this is Chris' tribute."

Mr Ofili, 29, works with unusual materials in his studio, best exemplified by The Adoration Of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars (Part 2). It is described in the Tate exhibition catalogue as being made of "acrylic, oil, resin, glitter, paper collage, map pins and elephant dung on canvas with two dung supports". The striking painting of a corpulent pop star bursting out of his tinselled outfit is described as "a remix of art, historical quotation, Biblical reference and hip-hop music".

With Mr Ofili on the shortlist are Tacita Dean, 32, Sam Taylor-Wood, 31, and Cathy de Monchaux, 37. In a room plunged into darkness, visitors are invited by Ms Dean to watch a 14-minute video of a lighthouse at sunset inspired by the death of round-the-world yachtsman Donald Crowhurst. Ms Dean also displays a video of Hungarian women in a steam bath.

Mr Taylor-Wood reached the shortlist with his use of video, with a split screen view of a couple arguing in a crowded restaurant. A woman wipes away her tears on one screen, a man fiddles nervously with his cigarettes on the other.

Ms de Monchaux devised a collection of wall sculptures made of metal, pink leather and suede, and a group of dark lead structures on the floor resembling tombstones.

The exhibition seems to show a shortlist that is rather more arresting and thought- provoking than in some previous years. But being the Turner Prize it attracted immediate criticism. The critic Brian Sewell said after yesterday's press view: "This year is worse than ever. It has absolutely no merit. It is dull, silly and trifling.

"I am in favour of the idea of the prize but am appalled by the execution."

The pounds 20,000 prize will be presented at a dinner at the Tate Gallery on 1 December.