Is the Turner Prize still alive? Opinions vary. Each year the reputation of the most prestigious award in contemporary British art seems to die a little more. Luckily, it does still manage to deliver a fair few surprises and the Prize is certainly no stranger to a smattering of drama, with controversies dating back to the shock nominations of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
The youngest artist on the shortlist, Helen Marten was awarded the 2016 Turner Prize on Monday for a well-received exhibition at the 56th Venice Biennale. The win caps an extremely successful year for this 31 year old artist, who just last month received the inaugural Hepworth Wakefield Sculpture Prize. She has pledged to share both of her considerable winnings with her fellow nominees. Marten’s sculptural practice features a vast and sometimes bewildering variety of found or readymade materials, from fish skins to cotton buds. The work escapes an obvious or singular meaning, inviting the viewers to become “archaeologists of our own times”.
Digging deeper, the Turner Prize appears to have failed once again to include enough politically engaged work. Nominee Michael Dean’s poverty line wage as a mountain of pennies was actually the crowd’s favorite, with one journalist calling Marten’s win a return to pre-Brexit politics, stating that she was not the people’s choice but that of a small (art) elite. The frustration about the lack of real-life relevance is understandable considering last year’s surprising triumph of community-oriented architects Assemble. This time, of course, the art crowd was outraged that the winners were not actually artists.
If anything, the Turner Prize highlights the growing impossibility of catering to the general public and the bubble of the art world. Conservative MP Michael Gove heavily criticized the Prize on Twitter but bizarrely congratulated (misspelling her name) “Helen Martin” on her win anyway. It is perhaps no surprise to hear this from a man who has just tried to have so-called ‘soft’ subjects like Art History removed from the UK’s A-Levels. Centuries of development must be “#modishcrap” to somebody who has just discovered the magic of hashtags. One would like to hear the opinion of the late JMW Turner himself on what is becoming of the award the Tate has been giving out in his honor since the 1980s. The Turner Prize is dead. Long live the Turner Prize.
The “Turner Prize 2016” featuring all the nominees runs at Tate Britain, London through to the 2nd of January, 2017.
By Anne Erhard – FAM Editorial