conceptual, contemporary, installation, painting, sculpture

Turner Prize Exhibition 2009 at Tate Britain

October 19, 2009

Published on Culture 24

Turner Prize 2009 Exhibition, Tate Britain, until January 3 2010

Turner Prize art rarely speaks for itself. A deformed lump of cream-coloured plastic is fixed to the wall. It is an exhibit by candidate Roger Hiorns.

“What do you see?” a mother enquires. “I see a man on horseback.”

“I see someone galloping along,” agrees her young daughter.

This would be a fine interpretation were it not for the blurb on the wall, which kindly informs the viewer that said sculptures are laced with bovine brains. A nearby pile of grey dust turns out to be an atomised passenger jet engine. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.

Painter Richard Wright also benefits from a few words of explanation. His exhibit is a gold leaf mural of considerable size and complexity. The abstract design looks like wallpaper and is at first about as interesting.

Then you read that come January the gallery plans to paint over the work, which must have taken ages to execute, and it soon becomes a breathtaking feat of futile endeavour. It has quite a lot to say, for a piece of interior design.

Even more reliant on their short text is Lucy Skaer. Her wow factor comes from exhibiting a sperm whale skull, partially hidden with a screen. She has also drawn a whale skeleton with painstaking magic marker swirls. Twenty-six Brancusi replicas made from coal dust are poised nearby. It is arty, yet puzzling.

Her work is designed to slow down the act of looking. Which just gives time to wonder why you are looking at a dead cetacean. There is no doubt a good reason.

But most baffling of all is Enrico David. His installation includes two large papier-mâché eggmen on rockers. These make you want to punch them and that is quite an odd reaction to a piece of art.

He also brings us an emaciated, cloth diplodocus creature with a wooden face. It stretches the length of the room and, be warned, into the furthest reaches of the viewer’s mind. It is both ghastly and brilliant.

David’s work is just too weird for words, but it stands on its own dubious merits. If this was a prize for work requiring no background knowledge, he would surely win.

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