GATESHEAD, England (Reuters) - In the absence of any big shocks at this year’s Turner Prize exhibition, organizers hope the quality of the works on display will be enough to generate headlines and positive buzz for the show.
The annual award is one of the contemporary art world’s most recognizable and controversial, which on occasion sparks heated public debate about what constitutes art.
It has been dismissed as “The Prize for the Emperor’s New Clothes,” and previous winners include Martin Creed, whose exhibit in 2001 was an empty room with lights going on and off. Three years earlier Chris Ofili triumphed with paintings propped up on elephant dung.
But the Turner has also helped cement the careers of some of Britain’s leading contemporary artists, including Damien Hirst, who won in 1995, Steve McQueen (1999) and Antony Gormley (1994).
This year, the nominated artists are Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd and George Shaw, and their works are on display at the BALTIC gallery in Gateshead, northern England, from October 21 to January 8.
It is only the second time in its 27-year history that the Turner Prize has been held outside London, and the first time at a gallery not belonging to the Tate stable.
Godfrey Worsdale, BALTIC director and member of the 2011 jury, said the kind of indignation that used to accompany the prize may be a thing of the past as British art lovers have become more sophisticated.
“I like to think the debate has moved on a bit,” he told reporters during a press preview of the show on Thursday.
“I hope (so). There’s nothing worse than not being talked about, but ... I think the debate is a bit more sophisticated now.”
He also said it was important to hold the prize outside London.
“I think that makes some kind of statement about the Turner Prize being a national award,” he explained.
Scottish-born Black’s exhibit is entered via see-through cellophane “curtains” hanging from the ceiling by tape and daubed in paint.
Two large mounds of paper colored in powdered paint fill the room inside, with the powder spread over the floor reminding visitors of the fragility and transience of the art.
One of the paper structures allows the public to pass behind it and walk “into” a work of art.
“To de-install it is to destroy it, and that fragility is, I think, very crucial to her work,” said curator Laurence Sillars.
Shaw, the only painter among the nominees, has produced a series of identically-sized landscapes that draw on his memories of the drab housing estate in the West Midlands where he grew up.
His “deadpan realism” is designed to communicate how time changes our perceptions of a place that was once our home.
The images of damp streets, derelict buildings and shuttered shops also point to the broken dreams of those who once lived and worked there and who have long since moved on.
Boyce’s installations recall stage sets or stills from a movie, and his Turner exhibit features paper leaves on the floor, leaf-like metal shapes hanging from the ceiling and a garbage can like those used in public parks.
And Lloyd’s room of video works deliberately draws the viewer’s gaze to the technology she uses as well as the images they project.
“Floor 2011” is made up of close-up images of a section of wooden floor from three projectors hanging at waist height, so to get too close would mean to destroy the image.
Organizers hope the move to Gateshead draws new crowds to the Turner Prize show, which attracted just 51,000 people in 2010 compared with a record 133,000 in 1999.
The award winner, announced on December 5, receives a check for 25,000 pounds ($39,212) as well as the priceless publicity that goes with it. The other nominees each receive 5,000 pounds.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato