Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Turner Prize, 2009 - The Independent, London 8 December 2009

All that glisters turns out to be gold after all. The least demonstrative, and the most unassuming, of this year’s Turner Prize nominees gets it for a painting-cum-drawing that covers one entire wall at Tate Britain – yes, that’s all there is, my friends (as Peggy Lee once sang), to Richard Wright’s show - and which is likely to disappear altogether when the show is over.

Those who thought that Enrico David might make it with all that noisily transgressive, slightly delinquent-feeling, vaudeville stuff were wrong. Those who thought that something ultra-cerebral by Roger Hiorns might do the trick were also wrong. No, the judges have once again opted for an art which pays homage to restrained, non-figurative patterning - as it did in 2006 when the prize was won by an interesting abstract painter called Tomma Abts.

Yes, Wright is into a kind of laboriously hand-crafted repetitive patterning that often makes for an almost invisible art – in a certain light over at Tate Britain, you can barely see it at all. Last time he had a show in London, I had to look hard to find the work at all. Why? Because there was nothing at all on the floor or the walls. The main piece was up on the ceiling, where I had forgotten to look, and another in a back room which you had to seek hard to find.

Where does it come from? You could say that its roots are in traditions of Islamic calligraphy; you could also say that its roots are in decorative fabrics – well, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, are they? How does Wright work? A little like Carl André, another man made famous by the Tate – in André’s case, it was for a configuration of bricks.

Like André. Wright goes into a space empty-handed, without finished works. He looks at it. He sizes it up. Then he draws, in situ, on its surfaces, responding to the shape of the space, its atmosphere, the context of what he has been invited to appropriate, engulf, characterize, re-define. But only temporarily. These drawings don’t go anywhere afterwards. Nobody tries to peel them off the walls. They remain for the duration, they are documented with photographs, and then they get destroyed.

Wright, like so many of his contemporaries, makes an art which comes and goes, and which perhaps is therefore making an allusion to the passing nature of life, and the necessary impermanence of art.

It’s not just that they come and go though. The whole enterprise, here on this wall, seems so tentative, as if it were a kind of effrontery to do more than he has done. And how exactly would you categorise this kind of art? Nodding again towards André, you could call it minimalist if you liked. But it is also, for all its thin and somewhat ethereal nature, quite luxurious in its way. But it’s a luxury that always threatens to pass away, and it does indeed pass away after a little while.

No comments:

Post a Comment