The Turner Prize is always a delight. It’s always guaranteed to generate lots of column inches in the papers, nearly all of them given over to espousing the opinion that this isn’t ‘art’ but merely a waste of time, money and effort. It’s always the same; mediated ‘outrage’ from the press and a bit of ‘what’s all that about, then?’ bemusement from the public. I like it.
In recent years though I’ve been left cold by much of the actual art. Last year’s show seemed to me to be one of the most tedious I had seen. This year, however, I thought the whole show was pretty good, with all four of the nominated artists giving me something to think about.
Simon Starling’s shed / boat seems to be one of the pieces that’s stirred up the media interest this year. The piece consists of a wooden shed found in Germany, dismantled and then rebuilt as a boat, floated down the river to a new place, then reassembled as a shed again. Which doesn’t seem much per se, does it? And it isn’t much to look at either; just a wooden shed, much like any other big wooden shed. The key is the idea behind the process; the journey. And I like journeys. I like art about journeys. So I like this art.
I like his cactus painting too, and the hybrid bicycle that he used to travel across a Spanish desert. I like how the bicycle is presented as a part of the exhibit. But maybe that’s just because I like bicycles.
I don’t know if Darren Almond likes bicycles, but I liked his video installation almost as much as I liked Simon’s shed. Sure, it is clichéd in its ‘tug at the heartstrings’ melancholia, but that’s okay. We know we are being manipulated by the art. It’s very transparent in that respect, and I think that’s part of the point. And I like transparency of intent, the laying bare of the process.
I think Gillian Carnegie is partly about laying bare the process as well, only her art is rooted in painting. It’s nice to see a painter in the Turner Prize again, and I like the way she obviously references art history in often quite corny but oddly witty ways. So there’s the Malevich suprematism of the black square undermined with gestural textures to suggest forests at night; there’s the Mondrian tree in muddy browns; there’s the Bridget Riley op-art backdrop to the Bavarian dancers. All of it pretty good. But I especially like her Monet pastiches, where she uses a single subject as a means of exploring paint, structure, colour and the other elements of painting. So cathedrals have become backsides. Or is it vice versa? Who knows.
Best of all though is Jim Lambie. Now I think Jim Lambie is brilliant, and not just because he used to be in the Boy Hairdressers and the Groovy Little Numbers. I think he’s brilliant because he fuses his art with an infatuation with a Pop culture that’s about as close to mine as I might get without using a mirror. I think he’s brilliant because this Turner Prize installation is called The Kinks, and because there’s another in Glasgow called The Byrds. I think he’s brilliant because there’s a book collection of his work called Voidoid, which would be a cool reference even if the art enclosed therein wasn’t as scratchy, witty and infectiously entertaining as anything with such a title ought to be.
As for The Kinks, well, I think it’s terrific. I love the silhouettes of the band as Rorschach blots presiding over affairs; I love the trademark op-art floor done out in tape; I love the individual plastic birds each done out in their own style: There’s the ‘four to the floor’ bird with it’s handbags – unrepentantly, unnervingly Disco Pop. There’s the paint splattered blue parrot – mildly psychedelic, like abstract expressionism applied to a fairground ride. There’s the smooth black kestrel sitting under the band, like a Mod Maltese Falcon. Most of all though I love how it all comes together as a whole, like an encapsulation of The Kinks in one room, in one piece of visual art. Genius.