A cross between the Oscars and a School prize giving; shoehorned into the schedule, Channel 4s coverage of the Turner Prize from Baltic in Newcastle/Gateshead was its usual weird self. Presented this year by head girl – the luscious (all opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of David Stead Gallery) Lauren Laverne; who, coming from Sunderland, may well have been chosen as a safeguard against Sat-Nav malfunction on the road north from London.
Lauren introduced us to the Headmaster and deputy head – Nicholas Serota (Director of Tate) & Godfrey Worsdale (Director of Baltic) who, though clearly wishing to convey a sense of proprietorial benevolence over proceedings, shuffled around, as if in a hurry to get back to the head’s office to practice with the swishy cane. As is the way with these occasions the pair were allowed a quick word, then rushed off stage to be replaced by ‘favourite teachers’ Goldie, for some reason wearing his mum’s jummie and Mathew Collings – aesthete to the common man who, possibly to ingratiate himself with the younger children, came as Hagrid.
The shortlisted artists themselves (Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd & George Shaw ) were hurried onto the stage, whizzed through their lines and shepherd’s crooked off in order that we might hear more of the pedagogical pundits.
The television screen is no way to view art and I will be off to the Baltic to see the work next week but my own favourite was George Shaw, a painter who grew up on a council estate in Coventry; this being the main focus of his work. The work, he says, is about nostalgia and time passing and this is evident in the urban decay present in many of the works. There is a sense of finality, even death and yet they carry echoes of a lively past. Perhaps they are a kind of wake. Whatever, George Shaw is a communicator and as he himself says, that surely is what art is about.
The eventual winner, a youthful, one might even say schoolboyish Martin Boyce, creates large scale, sight specific installations which in a way suffer more from being viewed on a screen than does a painting so I look forward to seeing his work.
In the end what was described as the country’s most important and controversial art prize turned out to be rather comfortingly ordinary; certainly far from shocking, unless the presence of a streaker could be regarded as shocking and in an age when middle aged housewives and overweight farmers regularly remove their clothes in order to appear in calendars I think probably not.