Setting the Arts Scene: Turner Prize 2010

Traditionally a sample of some of today’s forerunning contemporary artists, being nominated for, and especially winning, the Turner Prize is seen as a substantial credential on any artist’s resumé. Hosted annually by the TATE Britain in London, this year’s 2010 exhibition selections struck me as a representation of a particularly thoughtful variety of artists.

turner prize 10

Having also seen the 2009 exhibit, more than simply impressed by the quality of the works on view this year, I was captured by the breadth the show maintained, representing artists from four key areas of the fine arts: painting, film, sculpture and sound.

dexter dalwood

I arrived solo, early in the morning so as to avoid closing-week crowds. Not usually one for lingering, as I tend to loose patience quickly with many contemporary sound and video pieces, I proceeded to dedicate the next two hours to the exhibit. It was my first introduction to Dexter Dalwood, whose large scale paintings I found absolutely captivating. Moreover, to put it bluntly, I was shocked to see an actual painter in the running. In our present post-post-everything art world, notably in exhibits that carry the Lose Weight Exercise of the word contemporary, painting, for its tradition, is often set aside– seen as inherently incapable of speaking past its medium when it simply seeks to exist as pigment on a flat, square or rectangular canvas surface. In other words, when painting asks of us that we lay aside our discussion of support and consider simply surface, in these types of competitions it is regularly viewed as committing the most cardinal of sins. Dalwood’s layered works and evocation of-the-moment content proved that painting can be extremely contemporary. So, how refreshing it was to see a traditional painter represented.

Furthermore, I was surprised by how painless the act of staying for the full duration of the two media pieces was: a video production by The Otolith Group and a sound piece by this years winning artist Suzan Philipsz. Both wonderfully composed, they not only held my attention two times over, but made me appreciate the artist’s representation in the space. The one room however, that I (in so many words) forced myself to give serious consideration, was that of the artist Angela de la Cruz.

angela de la cruz

The artist’s dilapidated canvases, strewn about the walls and floor of the gallery in a haphazard manner which in any other context would have readily connoted works in progress if not trash, simply left me with a greater appreciation of why many people are often left absolutely boggled by the contemporary arts world. What she was trying to say simply didn’t seem new in the slightest. The way that she approached the “painting as object” was the polar opposite of Dalwood. Her conceptual argument that paintings are not just pigmented surfaces, they are objects and thus it is important to consider them as such, stopped short of leaving any lasting impact and instead lay there in the same exact manner as her broken-up lacquered “paintings.”

After watching the artist’s video short at the end of the exhibit, I had a greater understanding of why de la Cruz might have been selected to participate in the first place (as before this even I was utterly bemused), but I was nonetheless left with a sense that either I needed more information, or the artist was simply not putting forth her concepts in the most efficient manner, and information is something that the general public is often lacking and even more often, not willing to seek out.

One of the reasons I feel so fortunate to be able to view something such as the Turner prize is, more so than the concepts it puts forth via the artists and works on display, that what is said through the silent acts speaks volumes. The dialogue of the show spanned so much more than what was represented within the walls of the gallery. It was about what, in 2010, we call Art and award accordingly.

Alicia Dillon

Alicia is a former CCT Graduate Student.