Turner Prize show: from psychoanalysis to poo jokes

Oct 3, 2012

Among the pantomime and poo drawings, there’s some serious and important art

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What you need to know
An exhibition of the four artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize has opened at Tate Britain. The annual award, named after the painter J.M.W. Turner, is for a British visual artist under the age of 50 working in any medium. Since its inception in 1984 it has become the UK's most publicised and controversial art prize.

This year’s shortlisted contenders are: performance artist Spartacus Chetwynd; Glasgow-based Luke Fowler with a film on the life of psychiatrist RD Laing; Paul Noble, who makes intricate drawings of an imaginary town called Nobson Newtown complete with excrement; and Elizabeth Price, who creates videos from spliced-together archival footage.

The exhibition runs until 6 January 2013. The prize-winner will be announced on Monday 3 December 2012.

What the critics like
This show is one of the most “demanding and thoughtful” in the award's history, says Adrian Searle in The Guardian. “High seriousness and scatological humour, ribald performance, death and despair all play their part.” It’s pointless this year trying to pick a winner. “Better to concentrate on the art.”

Elizabeth Price, the least well known of the shortlisted artists, presents the most viscerally exciting work of art, says Richard Dorment in The Daily Telegraph. Her video, which splices a lecture on church architecture with footage of a deadly department store fire, has “the potential fundamentally to change the way knowledge is transferred”. Her work is not just good, it’s “important”.

Linger on Paul Noble’s work, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. His pencil drawings elaborate “a fantastical maze of a metropolis” that’s “Sodom and Gomorrah meet Slough”. As in a miniature, the intricate detail draws the eye and mind, into “a discombobulating dystopian dream”.    

What they don’t like
Spartacus Chetwynd’s eccentric performances seem the most immediately eye-catching entry, but they’re the least impressive, says Ben Luke in The Evening Standard. Their amateurishness may be a protest against ‘professionalisation’, but this ramshackle approach seems self-indulgent rather than refreshingly novel. Next to her, the other artists are, “beacons of clarity and precision”.

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