Turner Prize Sacrifices Visual Punch For Conceptual Filler In Glasgow

Turner Prize 2015

What do chorale singers, a craftsman’s showroom, a posh cafe with fur coats thrown over chairs and a library reading room have in common? Yes you guessed it – it must be Turner Prize time again! 

This year the latest nominees for this most prestigious British art prize have gone north to Scotland for the first time in the awards history. The exhibition opened at the Tramway gallery in Glasgow yesterday and Artlyst was up early for the preview. Here’s the verdict.  

Visitors to the exhibition, housed in a vast brick former tram shed may struggle to find many elements of traditional visual art in this exhibition. The four candidates for the prize are trying hard to push boundaries, which seems to be the main criteria for selection by the jurors Alistair Hudson, Director, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art; Kyla McDonald, Artistic Director, Glasgow Sculpture Studios; Joanna Mytkowska, Director, Museum Sztuki Nowoczesnej; and Jan Verwoert, critic and curator. The jury was chaired by Penelope Curtis, the departing Director, Tate Britain.

The four finalists include architectural collective Assemble, who have recreated a two up two down row house interior which they have turned into a show room for selling everything from textiles to door handles and furniture. The project highlights Liverpool or for that matter urban regeneration which caught the attention of the Turner Prize committee. Assemble’s 14 collective members merge somewhere between a William Morris style social guild, Rachel Whiteread with a bit of Bauhaus and Bloomsbery Omega Workshop thrown in. It is refreshing and certainly my favourite of the offerings. 

Janice Kerbel is a Canadian artist who works in London utilising several mediums. Her key piece is a Capella, a 24-minute opera, performed by six singers. This sound/based work titled Doug uses singing to tell the story of catastrophic events including Falling down a flight of steps and being struck by lightning. It is well preformed but lacking in a strong visual translation. Maybe these are to be imagined, but I just cant see it manifesting with the same power that Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz’s work, which uses sound and its surroundings to draw, successfully presents.

Bonnie Camplin has created a public reading room with tables of books and video screens with headphones revealing several characters describing extraordinary sometimes paranormal experiences. The work creates an ‘Invented Life’ something that Ms Camplin has investigated for a number of years in her practice. This installation is worth an in-depth exploration. I especially enjoyed the choice of material and their juxtaposition which is hardly random but maps out the path to understanding what this work is about. There is also an underlying exploration of mental health issues involved in the videos where the more you listen to the subjects speaking the more you doubt their stability.  I found it interesting that a similar installation was also on view at GOMA down the road. Was this just a coincidence? Turns out it is just a display of books on sale in their bookshop. 

Nicole Wermers, the final nominee has created a far more traditional sculptural installation. In her gallery room she uses 10 Marcel Brauer style dining chairs and attaches vintage fur coats over their backs. Apparently this references the act of claiming territory in a restaurant or meeting room. This is enough to provoke PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to add their own splash of red paint to the mix.

I cant say that my experience was void of merit at this years prize exhibition. I think that all of the nominees show an ability to project depth and power in their designated rooms at Tramway. It is a giant leap for the judges to have chosen 3 women artists, as well as a mixed collective group illustrating fundamental changes in the former boys club attitudes of the prize. I would however like to see more painting, sculpture and yes names like Ryan Gander at next years London event. We can only hope that the panel of judges are looking at all disciplines and possibilities without prejudice.

The Turner Prize award is £40,000 with £25,000 going to the winner and £5,000 each for the other shortlisted artists. The prize, established in 1984, is awarded to a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of work in the twelve months preceding 17 April 2015. It is intended to promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art and is widely recognised as one of the most important and prestigious awards for the visual arts in Europe. Every other year, the prize leaves Tate Britain and is presented at a venue outside the capital.

The Turner Prize runs from 1 October 2015 until 17 January 2016 at Tramway, Glasgow. The winner will be announced at an award ceremony on Monday 7 December 2015.

Word/Photos Paul Carter Robinson © artlyst 2015


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