In Review

Turner Prize 2015: Assemble wins – but is it art?

Architecture collective transforms rundown homes, showing 'revulsion' for art market excesses

An architecture group that regenerates rundown homes has won this year's £25,000 Turner Prize. Assemble is the first group to win the prize, with around 18 members, most of them trained architects.

The 2015 Turner Prize Exhibition, featuring work by the shortlisted artists, opened at the Tramway Gallery in Glasgow in October. The show features conspiracy theory videos, a cappella singers, homeware and coats sewn onto chairs.

The £25,000 contemporary art prize, awarded to a British artist under the age of 50, has been consistently controversial over the years. Traditionalists have been baffled by seemingly arcane statements or work they do not even recognise as art. This year proved no exception.

The nominees included Janice Kerbel, with her 24-minute avant-garde, a capella opera, which is performed in the gallery at regular intervals by six singers.

Bonnie Camplin, meanwhile, has installed a conspiracy theory "study centre", with five TV sets showing interviews with people who claim to believe in far-fetched theories or have had paranormal experiences, as well as books, leaflets and a photocopier for visitors to use.

Nicole Wermer's display features ten Marcel Breuer tubular steel dining chairs with luxurious fur coats sewn onto the backs as a comment on conspicuous consumption.

And, finally, the architectural collective Assemble launched its own range of DIY homeware – including tiles and doorknobs – based on designs they created for their Liverpool community urban regeneration project.

The group worked with local residents to regenerate housing in the rundown area of Toxteth.

This is the first time the Turner Prize has been won by a collective since its inception in 1984, says the Financial Times. The group has somewhere between 14 and 18 members - and ten of them are trained architects.

Mark Hudson in the Daily Telegraph says Assemble should not have been in the final line-up, although he acknowledges that it is "at least doing something with a value outside its own aesthetic parameters".

He explains: "I don't question the social or architectural value of Assemble's work, but I certainly question its value as art."

However, Adrian Searle in The Guardian says Assemble's win was down to the fact that they ignored the art market in the first place.

Their victory signifies a larger move away from the gallery into public space, which is becoming ever more privatised, and shows a "revulsion" for the excesses of the art market, says Searle.

He adds: "Their structure that was on show at this year's Turner exhibition must be seen not as a work, but as a model of work that takes place elsewhere; not in the art world, but the world itself."

"Is it art?" asks Will Gompertz, the BBC's arts editor. "Does it matter? If somebody turning on and off lights can win the Turner Prize, why shouldn't somebody trying to re-energise a neglected part of an inner city win?"

The Turner Prize 2015 exhibition will be held in Tramway, Glasgow until 17 January.

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