Art Criticism

The Turner Prize 2010
Tate Britain

The trees are turning and London is awash with art. It’s Frieze week and there are openings everywhere. Down at Tate Modern the Turbine Hall looks as if it’s mutated into a giant granary with millions of handcrafted porcelain “seed husks” that form Ai Weiwei’s new seductive installation. Then at Tate Britain there is the annual Turner Prize. Past winners have included Damien Hirst, Gilbert and George and Anish Kapoor. This year there is a figurative painter, a painter whose work could be read as sculpture, a group of video makers and a sound artist.

Dexter Dalwood Burroughs in Tangiers 2005
Dexter Dalwood Burroughs in Tangiers, 2005

Dexter Dalwood’s paintings give pictorial form to events that have shaped history and culture. Though the main protagonist is absent from the canvas, clues are given in the titles. Using layers of collage Dalwood builds fantasy interiors and landscapes. Writers are a source of fascination: Oscar Wilde, Herman Melville, William Burroughs. With its retro feel Burroughs in Tangiers (2005) borrows something from Richard Hamilton’s, Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? 1956. Appropriating Robert Rauschenberg’s Rebus 1955 (painted around the time Burroughs was writing Naked Lunch), along with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Dalwood has set them alongside flat areas of dripped paint. A collaged typewriter and a painted four-poster bed (which introduces a hint of the Matisse foliage) conjure the chaos the poet Allen Ginsberg found in Tangiers when he visited Burroughs who was high on Eukodol. In Greenham Common, 2008 and Death of David Kelly, 2008, Dalwood deals with recent British political events. In the latter a bone-white moon hangs behind a solitary pine. Set against a deep blue sky it evokes the lonely tragedy of the British UN weapons inspector who mysteriously committed suicide in 2003.

Angela de la Cruz Deflated IX 2010
Angela de la Cruz Deflated IX, 2010

When is a painting not a painting? Angela de la Cruz interrogates this conundrum in her minimalist single tone paintings, which she then violates. Ripped, smashed and broken they are pulled from their stretchers like skin from the bone to flop on the floor, hang in corners and ripple in doorways. This is a post-modern denial of the painting as “sacred” object, a liberation of the canvas from the constraints of classic Modernism. De la Cruz’s vocabulary is highly charged. She sees the stretcher as an extension of the body. These wounded forms, not without a touch of absurdist humor, speak of human vulnerability and physical frailty. Born in Spain in 1956 de la Cruz has always been a larger-than-life figure on the London art scene. Her recent stroke makes these works all the more poignant. The shiny yellow skin of Deflated IX, 2010 hangs on the wall like a pair of collapsed lungs. Other work is concerned with volume, mass and gravity. Using containers that reproduce the exact measurements of her body, she has, in Untitled (Hold no.1), 2005, precariously fixed a metal filing cabinet to the wall twinned with a second coffin-like metal container. The effect is both slapstick and somehow uncanny.

The Otolith Group at Turner Prize 2010
The Otolith Group at Turner Prize 2010

The Otolith Group was founded by Kodwo Eschun and Anjalika Sagar in 2001 to explore “the capacity of the essayist to exploit the seductive power of the moving image, whilst concurrently questioning and destabilizing it, in order to re-imagine notions of truth and history.” Well that may be so if you have several lifetimes to sit in front of the multifarious screens of Inner Time of Television, 2007-2010 that reconfigure the 13-part television series The Owl Legacy about Ancient Greek heritage made with the French filmmaker Chris Marker. Or Otolith III, in which a young boy from a remote Bengali village befriends a visiting extra-terrestrial. Polyvocal in its narration, the fact that this work draws on Pasolini and other film directors does not make it any less tedious to watch and proves that intellectually driven concepts alone are not enough to make engaging art.

Susan Philipsz Lowlands 2008/10
Susan Philipsz Lowlands, 2008/10

In stark contrast, Susan Philipsz has presented Lowlands, 2008/2010, a 3-channel sound installation of the 16th-century Scottish lament Lowlands Away. Her hauntingly evocative voice fills the empty gallery with a veil of sound that is nostalgic, mournful and original. There is the sense that one is listening to something very intimate, eavesdropping on something culled deep from the collective memory of generations. Modified for the gallery, one can only imagine how affecting this must have been when installed outdoors on Glasgow’s River Clyde, reverberating back and forth across the water under the city’s three bridges.

And who should win? Well it depends what you want art to do. It would be good to see it going to a painter, but either de la Cruz’s vulnerable forms or Susan Philipsz ghostly Scottish lament would do it for me.

Turner Prize Exhibition is at Tate Britain until 3 January 2011
The Turner Prize is announced on 6 December 2010.

20 Nov/Dec 2010 artillery


Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2011

Image 1: © Dexter Dalwood, Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Prudence Cuming Associates
Image 2: © Angela de la Cruz, Courtesy of the Lisson Gallery
Image 3: © Otolith Group
Image: 4: © Susan Philipsz

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