Review: Turner Prize 2011

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October 23, 2011 by markstani

A sense of apocalypse blows through this year’s Turner Prize exhibition at Gateshead’s Baltic Mill, scattering Martin Boyce’s paraffin-paper leaves and rattling the boarded-up shop-fronts of George Shaw’s eerily deserted Coventry council estate.
But the show put on by the four finalists is anything but depressing. Critics are calling it the best in years, and it’s all the better for being transferred from its usual home at the Tate Modern to an old flour mill on the bank of the Tyne.
Shaw paints the places of his youth in thick Humbrol enamel, stripping the long-abandoned buildings and rusting railings of all architectural meaning, yet at the same time enabling them to ooze with adolescent possibility.
Shaw’s paintings, existing in a kind of timeless twilight under leaden grey skies, muse on themes of memory and ageing. Shaw says: “in many ways, the paintings are painting my journey out of this world.”
Boyce’s is a low-lit and deeply affecting space, speckled under a canopy of concrete trees and centred around a modernist table of old metal and wood incised with words and phrases which hint at some long-gone human inter-action.
It’s beautifully presented, and best described by the critic Charles Darwent in the Independent On Sunday, who said: “the look is theatrical, like the set for a brutalist production of The Cherry Orchard.”
Karla Black’s work is apocalyse in pastel: her strewn, spattered scruffs of paper and plaster at first resembling a giant, bashed-up Lush shop or a Lilliputian expedition into a hastily abandoned children’s nursery.
It’s only when you head into the centre of Black’s work that it becomes truly affecting, fulfilling Black’s intention of making the viewer feel somehow psychologically vulnerable, but in a strange, touching way that makes it hard not to smile.
Hilary Lloyd’s video installations are the most perplexing, designed so that the projectors and their attached electrical equipment are afforded equal importance as the screens’ flickering, looping films.
Lloyd’s work is given an extra dimension by its placing against a large window opening out onto the river Tyne and grey, brutalist Gateshead beyond. It’s tough to categorize, but her work, in particular Moons, which flits over a soundtrack of city hum deliberately lowered as if to ease sub-consciously into its new environment, is certainly not without merit.
Overall, it’s a great exhibition, already predictably derided by the Mirror as “a dog poo bin and some crumpled paper” for readers who are presumably terrified by the idea of having to plunge deep into their own emotions and challenge existing preconceptions about art and life.
For those of us willing to to face such a challenge, this year’s Turner Prize does an admirable job of providing answers.
Two more things: visitors should also catch an extraordinary, top-floor installation by Mike Kelley and Michael Smith – A Voyage of Growth and Discovery – about the man-child Baby IKKI’s journey to the notorious Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert.
Also, just five minutes’ walk from the Baltic, on the site of the former Gateshead post office, the excellent Workplace Gallery is currently showing its exhibition, ‘Double, Double’, and is well worth a visit. More details here. Oh, and bang the front door hard.


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