Here comes the one moment every year when we put a microscope up to the British art world. The Turner Prize, that annual award competition that christens one contemporary British artist as the leading light of the scene, just opened its 2012 exhibition.
The four nominees, Paul Noble, Spartacus Chetwynd, Elizabeth Price, and Luke Fowler, all have varying practices, with pieces ranging from theatrical puppet installations to intricately detailed pencil drawings and documentary videos. Below, we go through the life and work of each artist individually. Plus, since the British clearly love their gambling, we note the odds of each one winning according to the bookie website Ladbrokes.
The strong pick for winner, artist Paul Noble is known chiefly as a master draughtsman. With just a pencil, Noble creates vast landscapes on paper that depict Nobson Newtown, a fictional world populated by what might be unkindly called turds. The anthropomorphized turds get up to all kinds of mischief — several sculptures featured in the Turner Prize exhibition show them in sexual couplings. Far from disturbing, these polished abstractions made from black and white stone are sensual and dramatic.
Spartacus Chetwynd is known for her persona as her art — she wore a bushy, black beard to the opening of the Turner Prize show. Recently featured in New York at the New Museum in the theatrical installation piece “Home Made Tasers,” Chetwynd combines performance, puppetry, and dance with the help of a troupe of assistants. Critics highlight Chetwynd’s raucous, borderline-obscene absurdity, praising her ability to engage audiences and carry off surreal spectacles without losing sincerity. The artist is the first performance artist ever to be included in the Turner Prize.
Elizabeth Price’s Turner Prize entry, “The Woolworths Choir of 1979” (2012) commemorates an infamous fire in a Manchester Woolworths furniture department in 1979 that killed 10 people (the six-floor store wasn’t equipped with any sprinkler systems). The video grows increasingly hectic with an intense mixture of girl-group pop music, interviews with those who escaped the fire, and clips of gothic architecture.
Luke Fowler (who happens to be the least likely Turner winner according to bookies) for his entry into the Turner Prize presents a video work about Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, a practitioner who eventually became an important figure in the anti-psychiatry movement, which sought to develop alternatives to medical treatment for mental health problems. Laing himself experienced problems with alcoholism and possible psychosis later in life. “All Divided Selves” is Fowler’s third film about Laing; the video intersperses clips of interviews with Laing and footage of his patients with abstract sequences that Fowler created himself.
The winner of the 2012 Turner Prize will be announced on December 2. In the meantime, get in those bets!