Saturday, 29 May 2010

Turner Prize 2010 review: Tate Britain's apples & oranges annual

Installation view of Otolith Group at the Turner Prize exhibition, 2010. Image copyright Margaret Sharrow, 2010

As always, the Turner Prize seems to offer comparisons between apples and oranges - a difficult task to compare diverse work in different media. This year the visitor sees, starting at the exhibition entrance and walking straight through, paintings by Dexter Dalwood, film and video installations by the Otolith Group, sculptural paintings and sculpture by Angela de la Cruz, and sound art by Susan Philipsz.

It helps to know that what is actually being compared is not the work on show, but the exhibitions (elsewhere) for which the artists were nominated. As I've only seen Dexter Dalwood's show at Tate St Ives, I can't offer any perspective on whose exhibition most brings out the qualities of the work of the particular artist/s, or how the exhibitions compare with other exhibitions by the same artists, all salient points for the Turner Prize committee. The public, aside from those priveleged and dedicated enough to travel round the UK and Europe seeing exhibitions with persistence and prescience, are left to compare what is actually on show, and to browse the catalogues of the artists' work displayed outside the exhibition. As the natures of the prize and the exhibition are constantly evolving, in future it might be an idea to show, either through photographs or video, the exhibitions for which the nominations were made. This would be a great contribution to the Turner Prize exhibition, and would allow the public to make a more informed comparison - as most people naturally assume that what they see in the exhibition is the basis for awarding the prize, when it is not.

In Susan Philipsz's case, the location of the sound art is particularly relevant to appreciating the full impact of the piece; the acoustics of the Clyde bridges in Glasgow are surely completely different to that offered by an exhibition room in the Tate. However I can say, without any use of the imagination, that the impression made by Dexter Dalwood's paintings in St Ives is somewhat different from that in London. It is not just the surroundings, stepping off Porthmeor Beach as opposed to a rainy day by the Thames, or even the difference in architecture, the classical square forms of Tate Britain differing from the partly rounded forms of Tate St Ives, with the main atrium fronted by a wall of curved glass overlooking the beach. The St Ives exhibition consisted of far more paintings, four rooms full, spanning work from the 1990's to pieces completed in 2009, months or possibly weeks before the exhibition was mounted, so there was a sense of continuity and development, from early pieces representing interior spaces, to the first ones that utilised overt references to other painters, to recent pieces such as The Death of David Kelly (2008) that are more simplified. In addition, Dalwood was persuaded by the St Ives curators to hang a series of small paper collages that are an intermediate preparatory stage crucial to his work. These were a striking display in the sea-facing rotunda, and provided a fascinating insight into his working process. It was possible to compare collages with their subsequent paintings, and to see which elements were altered, resized, recoloured, substituted, or, like the figure on the staircase in the Mandelay painting (2009), removed entirely. Finally, Dalwood had curated an exhibition of work from the Tate collection, with a common theme of work produced in 1971, which was shown in the lower gallery, visible from the area containing the collages. I'm uncertain as to whether this exhibition 'counts' as part of Dalwood's Turner Prize nomination, but it would certainly have been held in the minds of many visitors as they absorbed Dalwood's paintings upstairs. Dalwood's choice of the year 1971 as a common theme is a personal one, as it was a significant year in his childhood (we are not told why) when he was living in nearby Penzance. A record album design sits alongside work by Picasso (both are typical of sources he has 'collaged' into his paintings). Significantly, there is a maquette of a sculpture by his uncle, the sculptor Hubert Dalwood. The elder Dalwood's striking work, as seen in a catalogue in the public reading room, may have been both an inspiration and a burden to live up to. The 1971 exhibition was certainly very informative as to the cultural climate from which the younger Dalwood emerged (even if he didn't see these particular pieces at the time), and thus provides a different level of reading for the exhibition of his paintings.

I can only speculate as to the layers of context and meaning provided by the unseen previous exhibitions by the other artists nominated for the 2010 Turner Prize: it is well at least to be aware that there is a great deal more to the Turner Prize than meets the eye.

The Turner Prize is awarded on the evening of 6 December 2010, live on Channel 4

Turner Prize 2010 exhibition continues at Tate Britain until 3 January 2011

Tate Britain Turner Prize link

Tate St Ives Dexter Dalwood exhibition guide link

Adrian Serle's review in the Guardian

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