Tate Britain - Turner Prize Exhibition 2000
The Turner Prize Show Is On. Where's All The Fuss Gone?
Words copyright Jeff Lee 2000.
The controversy surrounding the Turner Prize has become so customary that its absence this year is resounding. Hoo-ha in the past has included whether the shortlist is too old guard or male orientated, to whether placing animals in formaldehyde is anything from immoral to taking art too far. Media coverage peaked last year when two art students wore Tracey Emin's knickers as balaclavas while dancing on her work My Bed. And this year? All quiet. The pre-show hype has been comparatively low-key probably because the work is so accessable. This year's shortlist for the award is comprised of a photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans; two painters, Glenn Brown and Michael Raedecker; and installationist Tomoko Takahashi, who despite constructing her work from rubbish, has drawn no major flak.
The show opens with Wolfgang Tillmans's photographs about the unremarkable. A tree forms in the skin on a cup of coffee, a dog jumps, a tube seat awaits a passenger, somebody's perineum is on closer inspection a wooden surface bridged by a pair of shorts. Tillmans has arranged his fleeting moments all over the walls in 19th Century style rather than lining them up in an eye-level row, which reflects the disorderly connectedness in his subjects. The overall effect is optimistic and innocent. Greying, crushed up snow on the pavement gets no less sentimental treatment than pregnancy, armpits or marks in margarine.
Moving from the sweet to the sickly sweet, Glenn Brown makes photo-realistic paintings by mixing together reproductions of other artists' work. The Ever Popular Dead (painting for Ian Curtis) After Adolf Schaller sums up the exhaustion in Brown's work. Dedicating it to Joy Division's suicide front-man seems to fit with the Van Goghian swirls of colour in this bleak landscape that's like the surface of a brain coated with anemones. Taking this interior landscape idea further, and the pop references, Oscillate Wildly is a virtually monochrome copy of a Dali half-human, self-torturing creature sitting on a barren plain. The title's reference to that cheery popster Morrisey is typical of Brown's cultural (or acultural you might protest!) layering. His Frank Aurbach portraits have a raging, putrid fleshiness that has you wonder where their buyers hang them.
Tomoko Takahashi had an installation in the Saatchi Gallery last year within which I noticed a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer from the eighties. Where on earth does she get her materials from? I suspect there's a strategy in this, as the installation in this show has a motoring bent. Bits of Scalextrics lie among traffic cones and signage. Some of the objects are interesting but the guide-marks on the floor that don't guide leave you wondering "So what?" Then you turn to the blurb on the wall for guidance. It says her work is "Characterised by a tension between order and chaos, containment and disintegration." It feels more about the kind of legacy we're building.
Raedecker paints huge landscapes with minimal features. Some have contour lines as if they were maps, some have features hard to identify. Within these are areas stitched with various threads, including wool, so an element of relief becomes the only hint at three-dimensionality. Without humans or animals, solitude dominates. The understated and sometimes even grey colour brings the solitude nearer to emptiness.
"So Who Do You Think Will Win The Turner Prize Itself?"
This show puts you in the unique position where instead of just taking it in you compare one artist against another. This is like comparing apples with oranges. But I'll nail my colours to the mast. I hope that the Tillmans unfashionable sentimentality will come out on top of the cleverness of the other three.
This year's selection has a straightforwardness that should bring in a large audience. Judging by the attendance though, and it'll sound like I'm harping on about it, I think Tate Britain is among the venues overshadowed by the new Tate Modern, which is a pity for those missing what is ironically a Turner Prize shortlist that couldn't have a broader appeal. In fact, I wonder if this broader appeal is any coincidence? Nothing like a bit of competition, even if it is from your own kids. Surely this is where the all fuss has gone?
The Turner Prize exhibition is at Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG - 020 7887 8000
Until 14th January 2001