10/03/2011 04:03 pm ET | Updated Dec 03, 2011

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“Ghastly!” “Shocking!” “Brilliant!” It’s almost time...
Prize time! Next month, the 2011 nominees for this year’s Turner Prize will go on show. Known to spark controversy annually, the contemporary art prize is often plagued by the question “But is it art?” (i.e. Damien Hirst’s bisected cow; Tracey Emin’s unmade bed) or by acceptance ceremony mishaps (Madonna’s live televised expletives as she presented the award). Last year was no exception: Susan Philipsz won for an installation ever that was neither seen nor heard; her “sound art” left some scratching their heads (complaints from local residents forced a lowering of the volume on her original outdoor exhibit), while her acceptance speech during the award ceremony made headlines - not for what she said, but because of the student protesters who interrupted her.

And yet among the art critic elite, Philipsz was favored to win (except by Richard Dorment of the Telegraph, who called her work “tuneless”). Although the medium only became a nominee for the first time last year, the art form had already been accepted in the art world for several years. In general, it seems that the prize has taken a turn for the mundane and is being treated less raucously than in the 1990s, when its popularity skyrocketed and the media had a fanfare with the public over the provocative works. After the announcement of last year’s nominees, critic Alastair Sooke mused if “Britain’s once reliably controversial annual art prize [is] at risk of slumping into early middle age?”

Whether art enthusiasts and the general public agree with the critics remains to be seen in the coming years. Amongst the 2011 nominees are a painter, a sculptor, an installation artist and a video artist, and an egalitarian split of two men and two women; when the list was announced in May, the UK paper Daily Mail & Guardian proclaimed that this year “certainly won’t disappoint” if you’re looking for “bewilderment.” On the other hand, described the jury picks as “an uncontroversial selection” without any real surprises.

So to help sort out the debate before the exhibition opens and the judging commences (by jury and public opinion), MutualArt brings you an all-encompassing summary of the Turner Prize and 2011’s shortlisted artists.

The Rules:
British artist
Under 50 years old
Prize goes to artist for an outstanding presentation of his/her work in the prior 12 months (before April 2011)
The Prize:
£25,000 to the winner
£5,000 to each of the other three artists
The Shortlist:
Karla Black
Martin Boyce
Hilary Lloyd
George Shaw
The 2011 Jury:
Chair: Penelope Curtis, Director Tate Britain
Katrina Brown, Director, The Common Guild, Glasgow
Vasif Kortun, Platform Garanti, Istanbul
Nadia Schneider, Director, Kunsthaus Glarus
Godfrey Worsdale, Director, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
Exhibition: October 21 through January 8, 2012
Winner announced on December 5th

Established in 1984, since its inception the Turner Prize could not escape criticism, rebuffs and outright perplexity. For starters, many people simply did not understand what the prize’s 19th century namesake, artist JMW Turner, had to do with honoring contemporary art. It turns out that JMW had wanted to initiate a prize for young artists, and that while he himself was a controversial force in his own time, today he is revered as one of Britain’s most esteemed masters (which means there’s still hope for Malcolm Morley, who won the very first prize but couldn’t win over the public, not even showing up to accept his award).
Additionally, many critics were uncertain if the new prize could satisfy the debate over what exactly should be a contemporary art award. Well, whether you embrace the artworks or blast them, the prize has unquestionably become an anticipated annual tradition that is at the very least, the highest contemporary art honor in the UK.
This Year:
For its 27th year, the Turner Prize has taken an unprecedented step outside of its traditional Tate cocoon, to be exhibited at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead as part a decision to alternate between Tate Britain and venues outside the British capital.
Juror Katrina Brown said the selection was not representative of "one school, or cluster, or movement – there is every medium in the mix and it has a diversity and maturity about it".
Each Saturday in November a different finalist artist will present a talk about his/her work.*

GEORGE SHAW (b.1966)
(Talk on November 5)
Nominated for his solo show at BALTIC
This painter is best recognized for his photorealistic urban landscapes that reveal, as described by Richard Dorment, the “aesthetic wasteland surrounding us all.” Mostly based on scenes from his own childhood, his noteworthy technical craftsmanship empowers the paintings with a feeling that more lies beneath the paint’s glossy surface than meets the eye. Perhaps considered more “traditional” than many past and present nominees - it is speculated that he is the first naturalistic artist ever to be on the shortlist - he does work outside the box by using enamel paint usually designated for decorating model trains and airplanes. Juror Brown describes the paint as having a “muted and sombre” effect that creates a “sense of foreboding” in these “forsaken places.” On the flip side, “more unkind critics might dismiss it as boring” as proposed by the Daily Mail.

(Talk on November 12)
Nominated for his solo show at the Garleie Eva Presenhuber in Zurich
This renowned installation artist represented Scotland in 2009 at the Venice Biennial. The pieces that fill his installation spaces are derived from calculated mathematical shapes and angles and assembled into dramatic forms, often recalling early 20th century modernist designs. A library of leaves from his Zurich show was inspired by a 1925 modernist exhibition; the structures are exactly based on Jean Prouve’s desk designs, but Boyce removes the functionality aspect and highlights the art of the object. As his works has been likened to "a torture chamber bedstead," maybe Boyd’s effort to highlight the objects’ inner beauty isn't that apparent.

(Talk on November 19)
Nominated for solo show at Berlin's Galerie Capitain Petzel
The youngest of this year’s nominees, she is also currently representing Scotland at the Venice Biennial. Her thoughtful sculptures engage the viewer, to determine the relations to the negative space and the meanings. The non-conventional materials she employs are usually mundane domestic products such as lipstick, thread, soil or raw flour, arranged into highly-textured sculptures suited for each specific venue where they are shown, and then subsequently destroyed when the show ends. Juror Godfrey Worsdale has compared her work to the abstract expressionists, “the artist hurling cosmetic products across a surface just as Jackson Pollock cast paint over canvas.” For the less-abstract inclined, the sculpture represents nothing more than “a large pink plastic bag.”

(Talk on November 26)
Nominated for solo show at Raven Row

Her unedited videos depict everything from people on the fringes of society (teenagers, transvestites, prostitutes, etc.) drifting through life surrounded by sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, to a real-time record of a bridge under construction. The complex nature of her film and photographic creations has Dorment predicting them “to make the most dramatic impact” when the show opens at BALTIC. Her show at Raven Row, for which she is nominated, incorporates the video projections with their AV equipment, showcasing them together as though they form one large installation. Or, bluntly observed, the project consists of “projectors with close-ups of a naked man.”

(Quotes on artists' work from Daily Mail review, May 2011)
*Tickets must be booked in advanced from or in person from BALTIC SHOP.

Written by writer Joanna Bledsoe

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