Category Archives: British art

Turner Prize 2014

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Nothing like the Turner Prize to deliver half an hour of overwrought excitement. Not that the writer of this blog was there. He was wound like a spring on the sofa, as the reportage photo above implies.

But how close can you get to this Prize? Like the man in a Kafka parable, you wait and wait all year in the knowledge there are doorkeepers beyond the doorkeepers. You are Before the Law.

On the one occasion this writer did make it to the ceremony, at BALTIC in 2011, he somehow took a wrong turn and ended up in a bar at the venue, still watching the whole thing on TV.

British television’s engagement with contemporary art is so minimal that Channel 4’s coverage of the Turner is the equivalent of watching an entire football season in one short burst.

Sorry to those offended by the sports analogy, but that’s just of what sofas and televisions put one in mind. Blame Tate for establishing the art world’s annual moment as a lucrative competition.

Duncan Campbell won. And for many in the room surely Gore Vidal’s cynical comment on envy surely rang true: “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” Still, a worthy winner.

Looking back at a piece written for Culture24 in early September, your sofa correspondent appears to have predicted the result. But only in the most throwaway of fashions, almost by accident.

It could still be maintained that Ciara Phillips would have made a more interesting winner. Thanks to her use of collaboration, she might also have made a more approachable one.

In Kafka’s brief fable, the supplicant for admittance to the law is a “countryman” but not necessarily a regional blogger. He spends the rest of his life waiting for the doorkeeper to let him through.

Before he dies, he goes blind: “Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the law.” Just the television crew lights, perhaps.

George Shaw: The Sly and Unseen Day

George Shaw, No Returns, 2009, Humbrol enamel on board

As widely noted, the biggest shock of this year’s Turner Prize shortlist is painter George Shaw’s affinity with the enthusiasts who build model Spitfires.

He doesn’t hide the fact that Humbrol enamel is his medium of choice. And it now looks like a conceptual statement carried to an extreme. He will have got through gallons.

Most use these paints straight from the tin. So the scene above works like a joke at its own expense. Painting the fence looks to have been very much like painting a real fence.

At other times, Shaw renders graffiti or brickwork in a way that recalls the literal-minded approach of a man finishing off a masterpiece of glue and plastic.

There is little individualism to these works. And that may be why so many British visitors can see their own childhoods and adolescence in the scenes. It’s as if we all grew up in Tile Hill.

It is perverse to come from art school these days and make nostalgic, representational art. And what’s more it is perverse to use the materials he does, as the artist himself admits.

George Shaw knows better and we know he knows better. But the fact he has persisted in this project for 15 years, and that we may well enjoy the results, is intriguing.

That’s not a guilty pleasure, but it is surely an illicit one. The Coventry estate here is a place where none of us are up to any good, where even hanging around could be the biggest of risks.

The Sly and Unseen Day can be seen at South London Gallery until 3 July 2011. See gallery website for more details.

They’ve also posted a video clip where Shaw gets embarrassed about using Humbrol paints! For an equally revealing interview with the artist see this Guardian interview from earlier this year.

Mike Nelson, The Coral Reef (2000)

You are in the HEROIN ROOM. You can see: a painting, a broken chair, a lighter and some tin foil. There are exits: SE, SW. What do you want to do? _

That’s not meant to be the worst dropped intro ever written, but a faithful reproduction of the game-like dynamics of one of Mike Nelson’s most labyrinthine works.

Because for visitors of a certain age, making their way through the 14 rooms here is reminiscent of the text-based adventures which came on 80s computers. What do you see? Which way next?

The video game experience seems fully intended. Somewhere near the heart of The Coral Reef is a vintage arcade machine, an obscure platformer called Black Magic.

And there is something magical about the way you can interact with this work, and certainly something dark about the world which Nelson has created. Yet it’s as comic as pixels and bleeps.

These days, seventh generation console games let you explore virtual worlds in ways we could not have dreamed of. But none compare with Nelson’s sculpture for potential suspended disbelief.

So this blogger even went so far as to spend 15 disoriented minutes making a map. It looks a bit like a medieval mappa mundi, and it does contain spoilers, but get in touch if you’d like a pdf.

All I can say is it was a shock to find so many political, religious and cultural extremists were living in such proximity. If we can get lost in a sculpture, we stand no chance in the world at large.

Find out why Jonathan Jones said this work was “one of the true masterpieces of modern British art” by reading his 2010 blog post in the Guardian. Meanwhile Art Safarist Ben Davis rates Nelson’s chances of winning a Golden Lion at Venice this year.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most blogged about pieces of art I have come across. For some good photos, check out Corinna Spencer’s.

The Coral Reef can be seen as part of Tate Britain’s current display of Contemporary Acquisitions. And the gallery advise you to check it’s on view before visiting (or you could live dangerously).