On ViewTate Britain
September 27, 2016 – January 2, 2017
And the nominees are: Anthea Hamilton, Helen Marten, Josephine Pryde, and Michael Dean. The public presentation of the shortlisted artists combined with the long run-up to the announcement of the winner always makes the Turner Prize a horse race of sorts. The thought of choosing a conceptual artist over a painter, or deeming a performance artist more relevant than someone working in video, has the same punchy logic as cheating on the metaphysics final by looking into the soul of the student next to you. But the Turner is Britain’s favorite art-world blood sport, almost as popular as Sister Wendy, so one might as well play along. This year its two installation heavyweights are up against a photographer and a sculptor.
The Turner Prize exhibition draws on work exhibited by the artist in the preceding year, so while the pieces on view are new, many have a built-in cohesion as a result of having been curated together already. Anthea Hamilton’s Lichen! Libido! Chastity! was presented in an embryonic form at the SculptureCenter in New York last year. Her slick and sexy (in the erotic sense) installation refashions the space as a fresh take on Beuys’s felt room, however, this time the walls are papered in imitation brick, replete with a brick suit to seal the deal. This heavily modified appropriation is balanced by a Robert Gober-esque installation created specifically for the Turner: a wallpaper mural of the London Sky at 3 pm, which surrounds a set of five stylized swing-like chastity belts that hang from the ceiling, titled 2nd through 6th Guimard Chastity Belt (2015 – 16). The two spaces are conjoined by something of a tradition of the Turner Prize—a jaw-dropping conversation piece—in this case a giant pair of pink buttocks held wide open by a pair of hands. Hamilton’s Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce) (2015)— an appropriation of a gateway designed by the renegade Italian architect and designer that found itself on many Instagram feeds the night of the opening.
The format of four large spaces (one devoted to each artist) rewards spontaneity (and installation and interactive sculpture in particular). Michael Dean’s text-based, human-sized installation—made of cast concrete, corrugated metal, plywood, and general mixed media—lays out the parameters of a maze-like spatial narrative, where life-sized casts of fists and other detritus are placed like breadcrumbs or Pac-Man dots along the viewer’s path. Drawn from his exhibition Sic Glyphs at South London Gallery and de Appel, Amsterdam, this sculptural perambulation is filled both with wonder and a touch of menace, simultaneously intrusive and vulnerable. Dean is concerned with enforcing contact between viewer and work; his work (United Kingdon poverty line for two adults and two children: twenty thousand four hundred and thirty six pounds sterling as published on 1st September 2016) (2016)—a shimmering, massive pile of pennies—activates a sense of awe of the serendipitous accumulation, but the dose of social practice in the piece, that this heap is one cent short of the U.K. government’s cutoff for the poverty line, is challenging to fathom upon initial view.
Josephine Pryde becomes the odd artist out by presenting a series of photograms and photographs titled “Hands ‘Für Mich’” (2014 – 16), and an enlarged replica model train called The New Media Express in a Temporary Siding (Baby Wants to Ride) (2016). The photographs are posed portraits of hands clasping, stroking and engaging balletically with various objects—most of them smartphones. The variety of nail lacquer and the ostensible age of the hands’ owners, with smooth to age-spotted skin, gives the subjects a depth of character that suggest a remarkable kinship between the series and Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (1977 – 80). Across the room are a series of large wooden countertop-turned photograms of various ordinary objects, titled Summer of 2016 (London, Athens, Berlin) (2016). The use of sunlight from different cities to expose the images furthers Pryde’s interest in the handling of objects—this time photogenically rather than manually. Only the train feels like an afterthought—it is emblazoned with tags by graffiti artists representing each of the cities it had been exhibited in.
Marten’s work seems itself to enjoy the space, and benefit most effectively by the variety, depth, and breadth of her neighbor’s work. Like Hamilton, Marten also invokes a Beuysian flavor of craftsmanship and magic coupled with playfully incomprehensible titles. Her works, On Aerial Greens (Haymakers), Lunar Nibs, and Brood and Bitter Pass (all 2015), offer three culture stations where cluttered and colorful zones of production, like some hallucinogenic Santa’s workshop, produce seductive objects: casts of fish, irregular dayglo ceramic forms, fantasy map paintings, and piles of tools and coins strewn on worktops that masquerade as drill press doppelgangers, kilns, and presentation boards. This seems to be the theme of the 2016 Turner Prize—mysterious objects and processes of indeterminate nature and questionable symbolism; and while December 5th is a ways away, of course, it is absolutely necessary to choose the very best of these!