Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Turner Prize Shortlist - The Independent, 29 April 2009

We have seen Enrico David’s work fairly recently outside Tate Britain and inside the Saatchi Gallery. At Tate, a gong fashioned to look like a chicken man, complete with a pretty stockinged foot for a base, just couldn’t wait to be smitten. His pieces posture and flaunt, fling themselves about exhibitionistically. They are loosely embedded in the tradition of commedia dell’arte, but they look crude and unsophisticated by comparison, too intent to hammer home tediously obvious points about gender politics. They are folksy – he is very fond of needlework and hand-stitching. They are also screamingly, if not jarringly, colourful in a way that rather makes you wince, but they lack any real delicacy or profundity. This man is keen to be applauded for being truly outrageous, and keen to make works that look swooningly pretty. This vamped-up, look-at-me-and-what-I’ve-done-sweetie manner palls after about five or six seconds of close – no need to get too close - examination. If David really wants to see how a great artist uses posture and colour, he should take a trip to the Kuniyoshi show at the Royal Academy.

Cambridge-born, multi-media artist Lucy Skaer recently gained some public attention for herself by secretly smuggling moth and butterfly pupae into London’s Central Criminal Court in the vain hope that they might hatch mid-session. What a futile and pointlessly attention-seeking exercise! In fact, the best of her work is much more interesting and deserving of attention than this bit of fatuous gimmickry might suggest. She bases a lot of what she does on found photographic images, as in a fine piece that was recently exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery called ‘Diagrams and Banners’. Here we stared at a curiously ghostly image of a dead man, with blood coursing down his face, and painted, fairly faintly and delicately, in red enamels. But this image – which seemed to be receding from us as we examine it - slowly melded with and merged into another image. The patterning of the face, as our eyes strayed down its length, turned into the patterning of a chinese bowl. So what began in a randomly chosen photographic source first of all changes into a painting, and then ended up as a kind of eerily shifting collage. It was work of real subtlety.

At least half of this shortlist – the half that isn’t fairly muted and quietly cerebral - is meant to razzle-dazzle us, to show us that contemporary art is all about hey! Whoa! And what is this! Roger Hiorns is certainly a spectacle man, an artist who believes in scooping us up bodily, and dumping us down somewhere other than where we would normally go. In ‘Seizure’, a recent Artangel project, he set about transforming a perfectly dreary modern flat at the Elephant and Castle, and turning it into a kind of glitzy, blinking and winking Aladdin’s Cave by coating all the walls in half a tonnage of blue copper sulphate crystals. It felt as if you were walking around the interior of a giant gemstone-encrusted cave – except that the walls and the doorframes were a bit too regular for a cave. Over at Tate Britain on another occasion, he played a slightly different alarming trick – a fire grate out in the street was suddenly seen to spout a jet of flame. The flames of Hades had risen to the surface! The only thing missing were the howls of the damned. So if art is about all-enveloping, in-your-face spectacle, and if the only truly thrilling and soul-stirring night of the year is Firework Night, Hiorns is your man. But is art really about nothing but no-holds-barred spectacle? Isn’t that really the role of popular entertainment?

Richard Wright, easily the oldest of the four contenders at the grand old age of 49, is the one truly oddball choice in this shortlist. In spite of the fact that he is the only artist to be represented by a gallery of international clout and reputation – Larry Gagosian – he is not at all a household name, and his face seems to be set entirely against all the noise and all the clamour of the pantingly youthful rest. Wright is a draughtsman who often turns up to do his work in situ. It’s not usually pre-conceived. He looks at a space – a large wall or a medium–size window embrasure, for example – and he sets to work, drawing and drawing with his hand, laboriously. And what exactly does he draw? It could be any of a great variety of things – baroque curlicues in a rhythmical formation, or a mixture of stripes or geometrical shapes overlaid with circles. He tries to impose a new rhythm upon any space where he works, to lead our eye differently, depending upon the nature of the drawn dance he’s proposing with a kind of shy, courteous delicacy. It’s all quite cerebral, and quite unemphatic - especially given the fact that the drawings often get over-painted after the exhibition is closed. So Wright is into evanescence, vanishing, ego suppression. How unusual! How un-Turner can you get?

No comments:

Post a Comment