Saturday, 31 December 2016

Turner Prize 2016:Junk, bums, toy trains, and cash.

It didn't take me very long at all to look round Tate Britain's exhibition dedicated to the 2016 Turner prize. In fact it may've been the shortest amount of time I've spent during my (almost) annual visit to the show. They didn't even have that room at the end where the nominated artists carry out video interviews explaining what their work is about - and this year they really could've done with it. Because it was pretty confusing.

I'd been slack so I knew the result before I arrived. Helen Marten had won. Just like she had in this year's inaugural Hepworth prize for sculpture. I'd been distinctly underwhelmed by her show at the Serpentine Sackler gallery this summer and had been looking forward to reassessing her work at the Tate. I'd felt that though it wasn't unpleasant to look at it wasn't resonating with me on a deeper level. All the plaudits her work was receiving was making me think I must be missing something. A second look, alas, didn't shed any further light on it so I remain in the dark. I'm either ignorant or the Queen is in her all together.

For all the talk of becoming archaeologists of our own times and viewing familiar items as if I'd never seen them before I just didn't get it - and I really wanted to. I guess I'll keep trying with her but for now all I can do is congratulate her on her victory and hope that one day the penny drops for me.

No such problem with Anthea Hamilton. Whereas Marten's work seems to pay dividends if you spend time with it (and you're not as lazy and stupid as me) Hamilton's appears as an instant fix. A quick chortle. One for the kids.

According to the board on the wall research is at the heart of Hamilton's work. Research into art nouveau design. Hamilton talks of being strongly influenced by the early 20th century French writer and dramatist Antonin Artaud and his call for the physical knowledge of images. What this translates as is a giant gold bum. A giant gold bum and an inevitable photo opportunity.

It's funny alright. But is it art? Sadly, Hamilton's room is probably the most interesting in the entire exhibition. She seems to be the only artist to recognise that the Turner Prize is now a theme park more than an art show. No-one gets outraged any more. People come along hoping to be outraged and, therefore, little can actually upset them. Hamilton seems, at least, to be having fun with this state of affairs. The golden bum, the suit of bricks in a room of bricks, and a pair of metal pants hanging against a mocked up blue and cloudy sky. They're all fun. They all take no longer than two minutes of your day up.

Josephine Pryde's model of a train covered in graffiti suggests more of the same. This is the centrepiece of a room that also features works made on domestic kitchen worktops that are then exposed to sunlight in Athens, Berlin, and London. So she at least gets to travel. Unlike her train which would definitely be better if it was whizzing round and round a track.

There's also a selection of wall hanging enlarged photographs that were so spectacularly dull I only took a photo so I could include them on this blog. Even then it was hard work trying to establish which were the least boring.

I moved through this room pretty quickly. All the artists had been women so far and I wondered if they'd gone for an all female shortlist this year. They hadn't. The last room was given over to Michael Dean. An artist whose work begins with writing that is then given over to the physical form. He creates moulds and crafts of his words, abstracting and distorting them into an alphabet of human size shapes using materials easily recognisable from our quotidian lives. The results are not massively dissimilar to the works of Helen Marten.

These were interspersed with 'United Kingdom poverty line'. Strewn across the floor of the gallery was the amount of money the government states is the minimum that a family of two adults and two children need to survive for a year in the UK. When installing the work Dean removed one coin thus rendering the amount one penny below the poverty line.

It's nice to have a political piece, no matter how simple, in an otherwise self-congratulatory collection of art.  It probably means Dean has done the most pertinent piece on show but as it's a prize and there has to be a winner I'll give it to Hamilton and her gilt buttocks. Not for making anything particularly beautiful, relevant, or even interesting but understanding that the Turner Prize is now, and has been for a long time, a distraction to what's really important in the art world, let alone the real world. A little bit of fun. With the emphasis on the 'little'.

So though the art, on the whole, disappointed, and I couldn't watch the non-existent videos the notes that punters pinned to the board, as ever, provided much deeper laughs. Needless to say the big bum cropped up quite a lot. It seems people really like bums. Much more than they like art.

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