Art review: Turner Prize 2011
This year’s Turner Prize exhibition is hosted by BALTIC and features the work of Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd and George Shaw. Chris Sharratt takes a trip to Gateshead and finds plenty worth queueing for.
Queues snaking out of the door, a one out/one in entrance policy, tannoy announcements declaring the exhibition full – the ability of the Turner Prize to whip up some excitement around contemporary art appears to be as strong as ever. Hosted this year by a non-Tate venue for the first time, at Gateshead’s BALTIC the four nominees get a room apiece to showcase their pleasingly different work.
After the buzz and bustle of queuing, Martin Boyce creates a calming, other-worldly space. Boyce’s art is about mood and memory, an excavation of experience. In recent times, he has drawn heavily on the shapes found within a 1925 modernist sculpture of four concrete trees by Joel and Jan Martel, a fascination that continues here.
George Shaw paints with Humbrol enamels, intended for Airfix models rather than fine art. All the better for the mundane scenes he feels compelled to document.
Boyce’s installations are often described as melancholic, but at BALTIC the feeling is optimistic, as if a weight’s been lifted. A ceiling piece of hundreds of white aluminium fins sets the tone, a geometric cloud hovering above the space, light filtering through the man-made cumulus. At ground level, brown leaves made from paraffin-coated crepe paper gather in corners and around the room’s edges.
There are white, patterned ventilation grills, fixed low down on each wall; an oddly-angled steel litter bin with a hoodie as an ill-fitting bin bag; a library table with mysterious letters, derived from a font created by the artist, carved into its wooden top. Things are all mixed up in this autumnal wonderland; inside/outside, nature/urban, functional/decorative, above/below. It is beguiling and beautiful.
While Boyce’s rigorous approach leaves nothing to chance, fellow Glasgow sculptor Karla Black favours spontaneity and lightness, ephemerality over permanence. From the materials used – crumpled paper, sellotape, crushed chalk, cellophane, bath bombs – to the precarious construction, her installation is delicate and chaotic, a splurge of thinking and doing.
Black creates the kind of landscape you might find in a children’s story book, a world of paper caves, pastel paints and powdery splashes of colour. It’s art as escapism, everyday materials transformed into barely-there sculptures. It strikes a fun, playful note.
There’s not much fun on view in George Shaw’s flat and sombre paintings, although some of the titles, such as Landscape with Dog Shit Bin, do raise a smile. Shaw’s subject matter is the council estate on the outskirts of Coventry where he grew up. He paints it using Humbrol enamels, intended for Airfix models rather than fine art. ‘Humble paints,’ says Shaw. All the better for the mundane scenes he feels compelled to document.
Everything here appears broken, unloved; shops are shuttered, pubs derelict. There are no people in these paintings, yet their lives are ever-present. Something’s been lost, memories blurred and confused by the passing of time. ‘I’m painting my journey out of this life,’ says Shaw. The big, inescapable issues of life and death rendered in modeling paint.
If Shaw’s materials are humble, Hilary Lloyd’s are a bit on the flash side. Her video installations involve expensive-looking LCD screens, DVD players and projectors, often mounted on intrusive metal columns. Her work is all about the process of looking, of seeing things differently. (As if to remind us that it’s the looking that counts, her room features floor-to-ceiling windows with a great view over the Tyne.)
With Lloyd’s work you strain your eyes and think, ‘What is that?’ Moon involves two vertical screens, each divided into 21 squares in which multiple moons and a clock tower jiggle and dance. Floor is just that, three slightly wobbly films of floorboards projected side-by-side. There’s a black shape – a shadow perhaps, or part of a chair? – that you can’t quite make out. Give it some time and the straining pays off.
Who will win on 5th December? The highlight of this show is Martin Boyce’s contemplative, modernist-inspired environment; the crowds at BALTIC will be gunning for bookies’ favourite George Shaw. Both would be worthy winners.
The Turner Prize 2011 show continues at BALTIC, Gateshead, until 8th Jan, 2012