Pounds 20,000 Turner Prize attracts 'striking' shortlist: A photographer, whose work explores the Ulster Troubles, is one of four nominees shortlisted for a controversial award, writes James Cusick

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S most controversial art award, the Turner Prize, yesterday announced a shortlist of four artists.

One of the finalists, a video artist from Northern Ireland whose work is highly political, may again deliver a high media profile for the award, that in past years has gained both notoriety and criticism.

Between now and 22 November, when the winner of the pounds 20,000 prize is announced, the four contestants - two sculptors, a painter and a 'lens-based' artist - will have their work featured in exhibitions in London and five other English cities.

Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery in London and chairman of the Turner jury, said the prize had this year attracted nominations for 150 artists.

He described the range of nominations as 'striking', with many artists establishing their reputations in exhibitions outside the capital and from independent galleries.

The initial favourite to take the 1994 prize is the London-born sculptor Antony Gormley. The 44-year-old's past work includes moulded glass fibre and lead sculptures of his own body which have attracted widespread critical acclaim.

In recent years, his multi-figure clay sculptures, including Field, an installation of 40,000 small figurines with resonances of the famous Chinese terracotta army, received huge media attention.

The work was shown at the Tate, Liverpool, in 1993, and negotiations are currently taking place with the artist to bring the work to London for the Turner Prize exhibition.

The artist whose work is most likely to cause controversy is Willie Doherty. Born in Londonderry in 1959, his photography, posters and video installations explore Northern Ireland's sectarian politics. Among the works cited for the Turner Prize is a video entitled The Only Good One is a Dead One. The spectator is shown the perspectives of a death from the victim and the assassin. Jenni Lomax, director of the Camden Arts Centre in north London and one of the four jury members who will decide the eventual winner, described Doherty's work as 'strong, given the difficult nature of his subject'.

The landscape paintings of Peter Doig, often echoing a past era of romantic familiarity, may be seen as the 'safe' choice if the Turner panel reverses previous years of controversy. Last year's winner, Rachel Whiteread, and her House sculpture, were both pilloried and praised.

Doig, who was born in Scotland in 1959 and brought up in Canada, has lived in Britain for the last 15 years. In an era of sculpture-dominated modern art, he is regarded as a painter of high quality.

The sole female nominee is Shirazeh Houshiary, 39, an Iranian-born artist whose abstract geometric sculptures are described as having a 'mystical quality, which merges both western and eastern aesthetics'.

The bookmakers William Hill installed Gormley as the first odds-on favourite, quoting 4-5. Doherty and Doig were priced at 3-1, with Houshiary 5-1.

The prize winner will be announced during a live edition of Channel 4's Without Walls programme.

(Photographs omitted)