Tate Britain launches Turner Prize exhibition

The inaugural Turner Prize was launched some 30 years ago and there wasn’t that much fanfare, certainly not of the kind the award now attracts. Perhaps everyone was thinking about George Orwell’s great dystopian novel 1984, wondering if the author’s harrowing imagining of civilisation had in fact become a reality.
In some parts, certainly, there were distinct parallels with the narrative of the book. You could feel echoes of the slogans ‘war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance of strength’ but in other respects, life was far rosier than the one Orwell penned. There was still art, the kind that didn’t need to be state sanctioned.
Today’s world is much the same as it was in the eighties. There is both resonance with Orwell’s survey of the authoritarian nature of government and the ability to exercise certain freedoms. Art, as a new exhibition at Tate Britain shows, is at liberty to do as it pleases.
Showcasing work by this year’s nominees for the Turner Prize – Tris Vonna-Michell, Duncan Campbell, Ciara Phillips and James Richards – the exhibition demonstrates that in the world of art at least there are a lot of interesting ideas at play. Existing as they do, without a figure of authority reiterating the importance of restraint and order, they are able to exercise their creativity without any pressure to conform.
The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones says it’s a ”heartening way” to celebrate an impressive 30 years of art, which, while controversial and at times comical – and not in a laudable ironic sort of way – has acted as a platform and channel through which great art has been allowed to shine.
His counterpart at the Telegraph, Richard Dorment, though disagreeing on who should win – he says Campbell, Mr Jones says Vonna-Michell – is equally praiseworthy.
“The correct attitude towards the annual exhibition of the artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize exhibition is always to assume you’ll hate everything in it and then hope to come away pleasantly surprised,” he writes.
“When I read the press release describing what the four artists in it do, I thought I’d cross the street not to see their work. But art if it’s any good is always compelling and sure enough, when I got to Tate Britain and hunkered down to focus on each in turn, most of it captured and held my attention, whether I wanted it to or not.”
You could learn something of 1984 when it comes to art such as this. There’s a great deal of confusion when we see contemporary works and while the capacity to shock is not as powerful as it once was, art’s ability to dumbfound – messy beds, sharks in formaldehyde – is just as prominent as it has been since modernism.
People are quick to denigrate it, laugh it off and call it absurd. Art needs to be figurative, a painting, a sculpture, easily understood and recognisable. Yet at the same time people will spend years of their life in an office, contributing nothing to the world. Yet they don’t see the contradiction, the doublethink. These people exist as artists do, but hanging over them is a boot ready to stamp out any tremor of hope they have. It would do us all good to give things a go.
Turner Prize 2014 at Tate Britain runs until January 4th 2015.
Cadogan Tate can ship works of art from London to your chosen destination anywhere in the world.