Gang of Four


Left: Turner Prize curators Carolyn Kerr, Sophie O'Brien, and Helen Little. Right: Tate Britain director Stephen Deuchar. (Except where noted, all photos: Gareth Harris)

Perched on a table bearing mountains of crisps and orange-stuffed olives (the foulest canapé ever consumed at a private view), artist Fiona Banner delivered her verdict on this year’s Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain: “This is the new, improved, unembarrassing Turner Prize. Every artist gets their own space, and there’s a real discussion going on between the four selected.” She wasn’t the only former nominee at Monday’s opening ruminating over this year’s intelligent selection of work by Runa Islam, Cathy Wilkes, Goshka Macuga, and Mark Leckey (the odd man out on the woman-friendly short list). Cornelia Parker and Mike Nelson were spotted sizing up Wilkes’s provocative installation I give you all my money alongside past prizewinners Jeremy Deller and Mark Wallinger.

The towering 1994 victor, Antony Gormley, stood out in the gallery devoted to Leckey. Transfixed by the artist’s 2004 film Made in Eaven, Gormley underlined the “sophistication of the references to Brancusi and Duchamp” in Leckey’s quirky slide projections and models. “This is a reflection of art in our time because it’s all become surface,” Gormley explained. “You have to find a new way of looking to discover depth,” he helpfully added.

Upstairs, among the crowds gathered in the Duveen Galleries, it felt a little like Six Degrees of Mark Leckey. First, actor Toby Jones, star of the recent Capote biopic, gave Macuga’s work a thumbs-up, diplomatically disclosing that he was a “good friend of Leckey’s.” Journalist Laura K. Jones then sauntered past and revealed that she had once dated the hirsute art star. “He always had a strange take on things,” she said. “Strange in a good way.” New York dealer Gavin Brown walked in soon after, declaring that the “boy Leckey done good.” (Brown’s an obvious champion, as he represents the Birkenhead-born artist.)

Leckey appeared at Brown’s side and joked that he’d had a “piss-poor reaction” from guests to his work, but his fellow nominees were less reticent. When asked whether any rivalry had sprung up between the short-listed artists, Islam playfully said that she’d be happy to indulge in a cake-throwing fight with Leckey.

Left: Artists Enrico David (left) and Jeremy Deller (right). (Photo: Rolf Marriott) Right: Artist Goshka Macuga.

Opinion on the floor was wildly divided over the work on view. Most people I spoke with lauded Macuga’s stark glass and steel sculptures, which reference the German modernist designer Lilly Reich, and Leckey’s Cinema-in-the-Round, a film of a lecture-performance by the artist. But Islam’s three films (especially Be the First to See What You See as You See It, which shows a woman smashing porcelain pieces) and Wilkes’s chaotic assemblage of mannequins, cash tills, and dirty bowls also stay in the mind.

Later in the evening, the effervescent trio of Turner Prize curators—Carolyn Kerr, Sophie O’Brien, and Helen Little—walked past, each sporting immaculate black outfits and the same lipstick. (A Tate uniform, perhaps?) Over their shoulders, I spotted dealers Maureen Paley and Kate MacGarry, along with Turner Prize judge David Adjaye. “The prize is a serious exploration of art today,” he said. “It’s not a quick candy fix.” The high-profile architect is plowing ahead with plans to build a home in San Antonio for the contemporary art collection of the late philanthropist Linda Pace. Adjaye also revealed he has another major new museum project lined up but declined to spill the beans. (It’s not in Europe, I gathered.)

Nelson appeared again and revealed that the Tate had bought his piece The Coral Reef, which will go on view as part of the Tate Triennial next February. The artist pointed out that he’s due to spend many hours at the gallery installing the complex, warrenlike work. The evening ended with gay porn star–cum-novelist Aiden Shaw telling me of his plans to complete a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, an artistic marathon if ever there was one.

Gareth Harris

Left: Artist Runa Islam. Right: Writers Laura K. Jones and Aiden Shaw.