Prizes – in art, journalism or anywhere else – are intended to show that a particular achievement exceeds the others in its field. The Turner Prize is a prestigious contemporary art award in Britain is for artists under 50 and has been around for 25 years. Here's the problem: the Turner Prize has always gone to art that sucks. Nobody liked the work. So, this year, a prize that typically has gone to pieces that shock is doing some shocking of its own.
The judges hope that the Turner Prize will go to a creation that people actually like.
The four artists nominated this year aren't as controversial as past entries, but they do bring unusual perspectives. Roger Hiorns is described as a "modern alchemist," mixing a variety of household materials with liquid copper sulphate and an empty apartment to express his vision. Enrico David focuses on the human figure, while Lucy Skaer uses photographs as starting points for drawings and sculpture. Richard Wright, rounding out the list of nominees, works with large wall paintings tailored to the spaces in which they appear.
This work makes a bit more sense than at least one past winner (2001): Grayson Perry, a cross-dressing potter, and Martin Creed had an installation consisting of lights flickering in an empty room. Reaction: one visitor threw two eggs at the wall.
And, of course, Damien Hirst is a past winner, though I struggle to understand why. He's only done one installation that worked for me (a year and a half ago, at the Lever House in New York).
Judge and art critic Jonathan Jones observes, "People say 'my child could do that.' It's not conceivable that you could look at any of these artists (in that way)." He goes a bit too far, however, when he continues, "It shows there is a great deal of talent in contemporary art."
Maybe the Turner Prize will redeem itself in 2009. We'll find out on December 7.