Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Turner Prize 2009

Lucy Skaer - Leviathan Edge and Black Alphabet

I enjoyed my visit to Tate Britain to see the Turner Prize 2009 nominees. The selection has a clear focus on materials and craft this year. It demonstrates a satisfying synergy between object, concept and making. The artists: Lucy Skaer, Richard Wright, Enrico David and Roger Hiorns (video here).
The documentary video pieces at the end of the show help enormously to contextualise the work, processes and practices of the artists. The Turner Prize..."is awarded to an artist under fifty, born, living or working in Britain, for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation in the twelve months (before the selection)", so I appreciate the opportunity to understand wider contexts for the show.
I was so enchanted by Roger Hiorns Artangel installation, Seizure in a condemned flat near Elephant and Castle in London this year (I haven't visited - but the images are incredible). Filling the space with copper sulphate, over a period of time the process he used left the walls and floor coated with twinkling blue crystals. His work in the Tate is less of a spectacle, but the atomised aircraft engine dust creating a topology on the gallery floor has an apocalyptic feeling, a portentous overtone. We felt frustrated, however, by the curation - we wanted to be able to walk around the piece which was shown against the wall on one side.
Roger Hiorns - Seizure - seen here
Lucy Skaer's work was strong, although perhaps a little over represented - too many 'things'. I liked her delicate monochrome drawing shown curved against the gallery wall in the first room. Black Alphabet - a sculptural piece created from compressed coal dust and making reference to Brancussi's Bird in Space was formally beautiful - I couldn't shake a visual connection to missiles or warheads, but I am not sure this was intended. Leviathan Edge, is installed behind slit panels, a massive sperm whale skull is visible only through the apertures - it causes the viewer to stop and consider the awesome size and structure, as if drawing it, studying it - to me this is a physical representation of the discipline of drawing.
I felt Richard Wright's intricate gold wall painting didn't quite live up to the hype. It must be quite a challenge to make a piece like this on the walls of such a prestigious space, steeped as it is, in the art histories of the Tate. Wright's previous work is exquisite and nuanced, subtly working with the architecture to transform and re-define environments. I just felt that this particular piece did not achieve the same level of integrity with the space.
David Enrico's strangely staged installation was actually more successful than I had expected. A surreal, neurotic stage set of the artist's mind and thought processes, the humour was well placed and welcome alongside the seriousness of the other contenders. I liked the central object - a misshapen black, sewn doll figure sprawling awkwardly and impotently across the set - an embodiment of the condition of neurosis.

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