2014 Turner Prize nominees announced
The winner of the inaugural Turner Prize in 1984 was Malcolm Morley, an English artist plying his trade in the US for the best part of 20-plus years. He was in his Manhattan loft studio, idly watching a homeless guy on the street below when he received a phone call telling him that he’d won. The juxtaposition of himself against the tramp was surreal and on remembering this remarked: “I was floored.”
While his work was not that controversial on the spectrum of notorious works that have since been nominated, Morley was not well received. And so was born one of the most divisive awards in the world of art.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Turner Prize and nothing much has changed in that regard. With the announcement of 2014’s shortlist, the usual pantomime of criticism has ensued, delivering the now habitual whirlpool of praise, scorn and puzzlement. What is it all about? Why does it exist? What does it say?
The Guardian’s Adrian Searle says that artists selected are an unexpected choice and not only is he baffled, but, for once, he is left feeling stumped. There is a high level of seriousness running through all the works, which Mr Searle speculates is deliberate on the part of this year’s panel.
“[The judges] seem to be intent on delivering an exhibition that not only shakes things up – none of the shortlisted artists are exactly familiar to a wider audience – but also want us to struggle with meaning as much as the artists seem to do.”
He’s certainly right about the relative obscurity of the four nominees. Tris Vonna-Michell, Duncan Campbell, Ciara Phillips and James Richards are not that well known. It feels fresher, more intellectually exhausting and a lot more sombre in tone.
“They are serious works, they have quite a political or social commitment,” commented Penelope Curtis director of Tate Britain and chair of the award’s jury. “It’s perhaps less fun but I hope that we can do the job in communicating why these works are important and have caught the imagination of many people over the last 12 months.”
Meanwhile, the Telegraph’s Mark Hudson feels that this year’s Turner Prize shortlist is becoming increasingly esoteric, suggesting that contemporary art has become a “hermetic niche activity” that effectively excludes the viewer, who is now of “purely notional importance”.
The Turner Prize, he says earlier on in his piece for the newspaper, is a snapshot of a new direction in art, inevitable perhaps. Traditional media, Mr Hudson explains, is near enough absent from contemporary art these days.
He adds: “Never mind no painting or sculpture, casting an eye down this year’s list of artists you’d be forgiven for thinking there’ll be precious little in the exhibition actually to look at.”
If correct, it makes for an interesting departure from the physical. Some may argue that today’s artists are simply making use of today’s tools to execute works of art; others will counter, saying that the trend is symptomatic of a crisis.
What is agreeable is that there is a point where nothingness vanishes into nothingness, and the what? The oblivion is impossible. As the English writer and thinker G.K. Chesterton once said: “Art, like morality, has to draw the line somewhere.”
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