The 2011 Turner Prize – who deserves to win?


The Turner Prize winner for 2011 is announced at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art on Monday night (Dec 5). You can catch it live on Channel 4 from 8pm but in the meantime I’m going to post a little about each of the shortlisted artists: Karla Black / Martin Boyce / Hilary Lloyd / George Shaw.

First a brief bit about the Turner Prize:

Tate offers a very basic and easy-to-understand definition of  the Turner Prize: “The prize is awarded each year to ‘a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding’. But to my mind it’s one of those events which has a lot of emotional baggage and a high profile attached but which isn’t particularly skilled at transmitting an idea of art to a wider audience.

By this I mean that it’s probably the most famous art prize in this country and that, if you’ve heard of it, you’ll most likely have an opinion on it (well informed or otherwise). At the same time, you will also find that those outside the art community/art enthusiast community tend to struggle to recall any of the recent winners, even if they remember being outraged or curious about them at the time. Obviously it has meaning beyond the event itself, hence it continues and is capable of giving the winner  a significant career boost but the Prize and the initial awarding of it has become (an possibly always was) a cipher for your own emotional reactions to contemporary art.

Here are this year’s nominees along with some of their own quotes which may be helpful when thinking about their art:


Martin Boyce

“I developed this repeat pattern and slowly as I was looking at the pattern I began to see letters of the alphabet. The repeat of the tree became this graphic forest and then through these trees language emerged. It was quite an exciting moment.”

Martin Boyce has a main focus on sculpture but often incorporates other media – text, photographic works, lighting and occasionally sound – to create installations.

You’ll often get a flavour of a public space from Boyce through references to parks and playgrounds and so on. The artist was particularly influenced by the concrete trees of Joel and Jan Martel. Boyce’s own work with concrete trees has, over time and through repetition and iteration, become a pattern – almost a print – whose lines can lend themselves to new interpretations and even a typeface.

It’s a modern form of Modernism which feels ever so slightly like being inside an urban stylised animation. He’s also the artist I would most like to see walk off with the prize.

Martin Boyce on his installations: “Of course I have to make [the objects] but I want the viewer to feel like they’ve found them. And I want to be able to get as close to that as possible as well.”


Karla Black

“Traditionally a painting isn’t exactly supposed to be here – it’s supposed to take us elsewhere […] sculpture is the opposite of that. It’s absolutely rooted in the world. But I would hope that what my work can prove is that doesn’t mean it’s any less of an escape.”

Black is, as you can probably tell, a sculptress. The materials she uses are a combination of traditional art supplies and things you might find lying around at home, particularly beauty products. They tend towards the fragile, the delicate and the abstract. A combination of floor-bound and hanging works created on site in the gallery space.

I find her work and her explanations quite difficult to engage with but then Black says in her Channel 4 shortlist video that it’s not about thinking, it’s about behaving in a certain way. “Any physical engulfment by or absorption in material reality can be more of an excape than the optical cerebral one offered by representational painting or narrative storytelling.”

This idea of escaping reality via physical sculpture feels slightly theatrical – escapism via an actually present and real stimulus – but whether you enjoy the work or not will likely hinge on whether you can happily accept a complete resistance of coherent explanation or if all you see is a meaningless collection of stuff. As an aside, I’m curious to know why she gives her work titles since the emphasis is on the absence of language. Are they a stimulus or a sop?

Karla Black on art: “I think about art in general as a place to behave – as a boxed off little bit of civilised society where permission is given for us to freely behave like the animals we are.”


George Shaw

“I don’t find [my work] personally bleak but because I acknowledge the end of something it’s always viewed as being quite bleak.”

George Shaw is a painter who takes his local area – a housing estate in Coventry. He takes the commonplace and the familiar as his starting point but, through his skill with a brush, reveals mood and meaning.

Shaw works in Humbrol paint – a medium more often associated hobbyists and model aircraft kit enthusiasts – but it does suit his output. There’s a slight unreality which helps build the atmosphere of the paintings. After all, they’re not actually about the physical reality but the psychological one.

There’s an obsessiveness and a fondness which underscore Shaw’s paintings and which, to my mind, set him slightly outside the norm for contemporary art. The fondness is not ironic or kitsch but heartfelt and the obsessive focus on such a restricted set of subject matter comes across as steady rather than overwrought. I do like Shaw’s work immensely but I get the feeling his own steadiness will ensure his appeal will be cyclical rather than sustained.

George Shaw on art: “It seemed to me that if art was about anything it was about communicating – something about engaging another human being or set of human beings. To use the pictorial language I’d learned when I was at school – painting – rather than the philosophical language of art which I’d learnt at art school, seemed to me a way forward.”


Hilary Lloyd

“Often if you make films you’re documenting something and it’s really obviously very clear that I’m not.”

Hilary Lloyd deals primarily in video art. She explains that she uses little or no editing to create the pieces, meaning that the work is generally the result of a mixture of subject selection, serendipity, positioning and gallery display.

The fragmentary nature of her work reminded me of a video portrait of the swimmer Duncan Goodhew in the National Portrait Gallery where multiple screens offer different viewpoints and perspectives. I find it hard to get to the point of her work. I suspect it’s an effort to communicate a fleeting moment – perhaps catching sight of something or feeling something and then offering it up to others to see what they do with it, but from what I’ve seen the beauty comes from the use of the gallery space and the physical presence of the video hardware – her enthusiasm for the technology itself is palpable. It feels as if the work divides into two areas with the subject material actually being the lesser. I get that lack of subject strength strongly in the quote below:

Hilary Lloyd on art: “There’s this idea with art that you should understand it or appreciate it or get it – I don’t think it’s like that at all.”