Turner Prize has grown up, says head judge

Penelope Curtis claims this year's list proves past sensationalism is consigned to history

Jonathan Brown
Wednesday 05 May 2010 00:00 BST

The sensation in this year's Turner Prize shortlist is that there is no sensation. Four artists shortlisted for this year's most prestigious arts prize were announced yesterday with a promise from the chair of judges that the lack of controversy in their selection meant that the traditionally headline-grabbing contest had finally grown up.

The £25,000 first prize will be fought over between a sound installationist whose work has been performed in a Tesco supermarket; a painter who rips and folds her canvases; a duo who specialise in art films with a social conscience; and an ex-punk painter whose most famous work includes the recreation of the suicide scene of the government scientist David Kelly.

If that list appears to contain ammunition for traditionalist opponents, the age profile of the four artists – all of whom are in their forties and well-established in the careers – helps to lend the prize a still greater sense of maturity, signifying that the tabloid-baiting years of the 1990s and early 2000s, when pickled cows, unmade beds and lights going on and off led to public outbursts of angst and physical protest, are now in the past.

Penelope Curtis, the new director of Tate Britain and the first female to chair the four-strong judging panel, said she believed the selections demonstrated that the Turner had come of age. "There was a moment when all the press seemed very interested in was the sensationalist aspect and it was viewed primarily in that way, but we have got over that," she said.

Although the artists might be less well known than the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, she said all were "nonetheless serious" and their relatively advanced years were a coincidence reflecting what was happening in the British art scene and the judge's personal tastes rather than a deliberate policy to shift the demographic. "It is nice to think the Turner Prize has grown up in a sense. We – whoever we are – are no longer looking for the sensational but instead are looking for a real consistent development of an individual way of working," she said.

Awarded each year since 1984, the Turner seeks to identify the key British artist under the age of 50 with an outstanding exhibition or presentation of their work in the preceding 12 months. New pieces created by the finalists will be seen at Tate Britain from October and this year's winner will be announced during a live broadcast in December on Channel 4.

However, one name was instantly deemed missing from the shortlist. Banksy, the anonymous and highly bankable 36-year-old graffiti artist and star of the film Exit Through the Gift Shop, did not make it to the final 18 names selected by the panel, which includes The Independent's Philip Hensher, although some judges had gone to see and consider his most recent work.

Dexter Dalwood therefore became the bookies' favourite at 2/1 to win. The painter is perhaps the best known of the four and his work was described as "easy on the eye" by no less an authority than William Hill. The judges meanwhile said the 49-year-old, a former bassist with the early punk band The Cortinas, had earned his place on the shortlist with a solo exhibition at Tate St Ives which had revealed "the rich and varied range of his approach to making paintings which draw upon art history as well as contemporary cultural and political events". The exhibition included his 2008 work The Death of David Kelly – a recreation of the beauty spot where the scientist took his own life after becoming embroiled in a bitter dispute between the Government and the BBC over claims of Iraq's military capability. His other studies have included the imagined death scenes of Sharon Tate and the IRA Brighton bomb.

The Otolith Group, who comprise Anjalika Sagar, 42, and Kodwo Eshun, 44, take their name from the part of the inner ear controlling orientation. Working together across a range of disciplines, notably film, the judges remarked on their interest in "overlooked histories". Their work has chronicled the lives of workers in the sweatshops of Mumbai – contrasting with the city's aspirations as a world centre for financial services.

But the artist who could emerge as the public's choice this autumn is Susan Philipsz. The 44-year-old from Glasgow has recently been the emerging star of her home city's International Festival where there had been strong reaction to her installation Lowlands, which featured her recorded voice simultaneously singing three different versions of a 16th-century lament beneath bridges over the Clyde. Her best-known work is Filter (1998), in which she performs a cappella tracks by Radiohead and Nirvana. In another work she sang through the public address system at a branch of Tesco.

The other outsider, but one who is well-liked by the critics, is Angela De La Cruz, 45, who is best known for removing her monochrome canvases from their stretchers and draping them over objects, folding them and stuffing them into corners of the gallery. The former Turner judge and contemporary art correspondent for The Art Newspaper Louisa Buck said the former Slade student was her personal favourite. "I love what she does with painting. I love the way she makes it emotionally charged but also formally rigorous and maverick at the same time," she said.


Angela de la Cruz

The 44-year-old Spanish-born painter and sculptor moved to Britain in 1987, where she studied at Slade School of Art. While there she pioneered a unique expressive style in which she removed her paintings from their stretchers and presented them folded, torn or scrunched-up. Nominated for her solo exhibition, After, at Camden Arts Centre, the Turner judges said she "uses the language of painting and sculpture to create striking works that evoke memory and desire through combining formal tension with a deeper emotional presence". In one of her best known works, "Deflated I", she hangs an unstretched canvas on a screw as if it were a coat. Pictured below is one of her works, entitled Picture 082.

Dexter Dalwood

The 49-year-old former bass player with the punk pioneers The Cortinas is the most political of the artists. He was nominated for his solo exhibition at Tate St Ives and is said to have been inspired to investigate secret worlds after being shown a decommissioned Colt 45 while in the school playground. His work includes Sharon Tate's House, and he has completed portraits of imagined scenes such as the Queen's bedroom, Michael Jackson's bedroom and the swimming pool where the Rolling Stone Brian Jones died. His work has taken a more controversial character, not least with The Death of David Kelly in 2008. Dalwood studied at St Martins College in the 1980s and at the Royal College of Art. He caught the eye of collector Charles Saatchi and exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery as part of the Neurotic Realism exhibition. Pictured right is his work Hendrix's Last Basement.

Susan Philipsz

A Glaswegian artist rejected by Glasgow School of Art who studied in Dundee and Belfast and now lives in Berlin, Philipsz uses her own singing voice to create highly evocative sound installations designed to respond to the character of the often out-of-the-way places in which they are shown. The 44-year-old artist was shortlisted for her recent presentations at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art and in Mirrors, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo, Spain. In "Filter" (1998), she played renditions of songs by Radiohead, Marianne Faithfull, Nirvana and the Velvet Underground through the public address system of a busy bus station. In another work her voice was relayed to shoppers at a branch of Tesco.

The Otolith Group

Founded in 2002, the group, who take their name from the inner part of the human ear controlling balance, consists of Kodwo Eshun, 44, and Anjalika Sagar, 42. They came to the judges' attention through A Long Time Between Suns, which took the form of exhibitions at Gasworks and The Showroom in London


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