Art Review: Turner Prize @ Tate Britain

The Turner Prize is one of art’s most prestigious prizes, with former winners including Damien Hirst, Gillian Wearing and Chris Ofili. Yet it almost always sparks controversy with its nominations. This year’s are no exception.

After a brief sojourn in Gateshead, the prize has returned to its regular home at Tate Britain, and visitors can expect much boundary pushing from the four finalists.

First up is the bookies’ favourite Paul Noble, who’s spent the last 16 years creating the fictional town of Nobson. His impressive large scale drawings are immaculately detailed yet are inhabited by what can only be described as anthropomorphised turds. His work is the most accessible of the four artists, engaging visitors through both his sense of humour and attention to detail, though it can lose its lustre with repeat viewing.

Luke Fowler has created a documentary film around the psychiatrist RD Laing who went against the common medical teachings of the time to introduce a radical new way to treat schizophrenics. It’s a fascinating story but at 93 minutes long is unlikely to hold the attention of visitors for its full length.

Elizabeth Price’s video is thankfully shorter at 20 minutes long but starts off with the (to some people) dry subject of interior church design and nomenclature. However, the rapid slide changes accompanied by claps and clicks keep the audience on its toes. This then segues into music clips and finally coverage of a fire in a Manchester Woolworths. The sections link together tenuously and, though we liked the snappy editing, its message felt a little bit garbled.

The final entry is from Spartacus Chetwynd – an artist who changed her name to remind people that they have a choice. Her performance works consist of home-made costumes and props accompanied by a pulsating soundtrack. It involves a bizarre scenario where a puppet in the shape of a mandrake root requires that audience members leave one by one, either directly or after listening to its words of wisdom. Coupled with an air-filled giant sofa, it’s hard not to feel a sense of child-like wonderment and get drawn into Chetwynd’ s nonsensical world.

Some of these works are truly bizarre but we all know that this is to be expected from the Turner Prize. Although this may not be its strongest year, the four artists are so varied that judging an overall winner will be a difficult task. We have a soft spot for Chetwynd’s absurdity but think that Price is the outsider who might just snatch it from Noble.

Turner Prize 2012 is on display at the Tate Britain until 6 January. Admission is £10 for adults, concessions available. 

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