"Turner Prize 2003," Oct. 29, 2003-Jan. 18, 2004, at Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Turner Prize shortlist exhibition continues its assault on tradition. Love it or leave it, the coveted award has been instrumental in bringing what is arguably the best of contemporary British art to a broad, general public.
Sponsored by Channel 4 since the early 1990s, the exhibition has been rattling teacups ever since. Past Turner exhibitions introduced Hirst's sliced cows (which won the 1995 competition), Emin's dirty bed (shortlisted in 1999) and Chris Ofili's Afrodizzic paintings balanced on balls of elephant dung (which won in 1998).
Over the last decade, the Turner has received more media coverage than almost any single art event in the UK. But this year, the under-16s may be excluded.
Posted at the entrance of the exhibition is a warning about the sexually explicit and violent material contained in the show. Don't count on seeing any school kids here.
Pleasures of the flesh, putrification and pedophilia dominate the recently opened shortlist exhibition of finalists -- Jake and Dinos Chapman, Grayson Perry, Anya Gallaccio and Willie Doherty.
Typically controversial, this year's dose of shock horror comes courtesy of the notorious Chapman brothers and part-time transvestite Grayson Perry.
Perry's ceramic pots, decorative from afar, are like stealth missiles, luring punters into a painful world of sex-abused children, suburban sex scandals and violent crimes.
The Chapman's entries, which include fellating bronze inflatables and sculptures of visceral worm-eaten corpses, bring some new twists to their work -- and to a few stomachs!
Entering the first of four rooms, one is gently assaulted (considering the warnings) by 40-year-old Anya Gallaccio's Perserve Beauty -- 2,000 red gerbera daisies pressed against the wall by four large panels of Plexiglas. Designed to decay before your eyes, these flowers will brown and whither during the course of the exhibition, a noble form of rot.
In because I could not stop (2002), organic and traditional sculptural materials are juxtaposed, with real apples hanging off a bronze casting of a truncated apple tree. Eventually, the apples will ferment and decay, marking the passage of time -- a fruit-powered clock.
Moving on to the next room, we're plunged into darkness, sandwiched between two large video screens. Re-run by Derry-born artist Willie Doherty, 44, was inspired by the political problems between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Sitting between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, Derry has been the scene of some of the worst violence in the long-troubled history of the Irish conflict. Re-run was filmed on the Crigavon Bridge, dividing the River Foyle that itself once divided the Catholic and Protestant communities.
The looming screens face each other. A man, dressed like a principal character out of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, frantically runs across a bridge in the dead of night. A lack of sound adds to the claustrophobic feeling. On one screen, the man runs towards you, while on the other you're chasing him -- life in a divided society depends on point of view.
The third room is jammed with journalists. The crowd parts, revealing Jake and Dinos Chapman's paradoxical Death.
Lying on the floor are two fully inflated sex dolls, one on top of the other in the 69 position, positioned on a bright blue pool raft. The doll on top, anus in full splendor, is fellating the other's strap-on oversized penis -- a real mouthful -- and a hell of a way to die?!
When art movers tried to lift Death, they were as shocked as the rest of us. What appears to be light inflatable plastic is actually weighty painted bronze. Shades of Jeff Koons' inflatable Dolphin [see "Weekend Update," Nov. 22, 2002].
The companion piece is called Sex. Hanging from a stunted Goya-esque tree are rotting skeletons with their remaining flesh ravaged by swarms of maggots, flies, spiders, worms, snails, snakes and bats. A raven perched on top of an amputated limb punctuates the Poe-like cartoon nightmare.
Inspired by Goya, Sex is a superbly crafted, baroque representation of death worthy of the most macabre 17th-century Sicilian catacomb. One of the few pieces made especially for the Turner Prize exhibition (the other being Perry's Plight of the Sensitive Child). Sex, we are told, questions our notions of horror. And sex?!
Last but not least is the man and part-time woman (he cross-dresses as his alter-ego, Claire), Grayson Perry. One of England's best kept secrets, Perry has elevated pottery to high art form. In the fourth room, 14 pots, protected by Plexiglas vitrines (which sadly distort the color of these superlatively hand-crafted objects) stand majestically mounted on plinths. The installation resembles the Museo Archelogico in Naples -- a forest of urns and vases.
Seen from afar, the pots seem to be emblazoned with decorative motifs. It's like being seduced. But closer inspection reveals everything from child abuse and sexual stereotypes to arabesque maps of the art world's elite. On another wall, one of Claire's dresses, Coming Out (2000) -- embroidery is another of Perry's many skills -- is mounted on the wall like a haute couture war tapestry.
If the objective of the Turner Prize show is to stimulate debate, engage and provoke the public with contemporary art, this year's judges -- Nicholas Serota (director of the Tate and chairman of the jury), Richard Calvocoressi (director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh), Frank Cohn (collector and representative of Tate Patrons of New Art), Andrew Wilson (editor of the heady London-based magazine Art Monthly) and Chrissie Iles (curator of film and video at the Whitney Museum), have achieved their objective. When the shock factor is high, record-breaking crowds are sure to follow.
But the real shock may come on Dec. 7, 2003, when the winner of this year's 20,000 Turner Prize is announced. Place your bets!
JOE LA PLACA writes on art from London.
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