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December 09 2011

Hokusai makes waves; George Shaw curates Graham Sutherland – the week in art

The legendary Japanese printmaker earns a closer look at the British Museum, while Turner nominee Shaw pays homage to a 20th-century great in Oxford – all in your weekly art newsletter

Jonathan Jones's top shows to see this week

Hokusai's Great Wave
This free exhibition offers a close look at a masterpiece of power, energy and awe. In about 1831, while Turner was relishing the grandeur of the sea in the European Romantic age, Katsushika Hokusai created this scintillating vision of nature unbound.
• At the British Museum until 8 January 2012

Graham Sutherland, curated by George Shaw
This survey of drawings by the British artist Graham Sutherland, whose spiky romantic reinterpretation of Picasso was a powerful force in British modern art in the 1940s, has been curated by painter George Shaw. Most of Shaw's paintings deal with the Tile Hill estate in Coventry where he spent his childhood and adolescence, and Sutherland's most famous work today is his tapestry Christ in Glory in Coventry Cathedral – so it seems his interest in this artist is both personal and local.
• At Modern Art Oxford from 10 December until 18 March 2012

United Enemies
Britain is becoming obsessed with its modern art history. As contemporary art roots itself in the national imagination, the history of 20th-century British art is increasingly popular. While Sutherland is in Oxford, the British sculptors of the 1960s and 70s are revisited here.
• At Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, until 11 March 2012

Dara Birnbaum
A new work about the music of Clara and Robert Schumann shows alongside early classics by this video art pioneer.
• At South London Gallery, SE5, until 12 February 2012

Asier Mendizabal
The biggest show so far outside Spain for a highly rated upcoming artist.
• At Raven Row, London E1, until 12 February 2012

Up close: artworks in detail

John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-6
Tired of the cold weather already? This lovely painting transports you back to long ago summers and Victorian childhood. The light in Sargent's garden scene is rapturous in its subtle emotional glow. Never has beauty seemed more vulnerable and transient and needing to be cherished at all costs.
• At Tate Britain, London SW1P

Camera obscura
Did artists in the past such as Caravaggio and Vermeer use a camera obscura to map their absorbing visions of reality? This optical wonder at the Royal Observatory lets you see what they might have seen. Light focused through a tiny hole casts a pale cinematic image of people in the park on to a flat surface. There's something magical about it, like trapping souls in a darkened chamber. This is just one of the ways art and science meet at the observatory where Wren and Halley once pushed back the boundaries of knowledge.
• At Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Caravaggio, Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 1595-1600
The boy's fingers are dirty, as the hands and feet of Caravaggio's people always are. It roots him in the low life of the Baroque city. Reflections of the studio glance and dazzle in the vase. Fruits are painted with a mesmerising realism. But the bite of the lizard hidden in the bounty warns of the dangers of sensual delight.
• At National Gallery, London WC2N

Piero di Cosimo, The Forest Fire, c1505
This tremendous vision of the primitive ages of the world is a rolling landscape that blazes at its heart. A forest is in flames, a dense hot nest of darkness and light at the centre of the scene. Beasts and humans and monsters flee. Piero went deep into mythology – it was said he was a misanthrope who lived on boiled eggs and was scared of church bells. Here he is in his element: the world of imagination.
• At Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Willem Kalf, Still Life: Fruit, Goblet and Salver, 1660s
This Dutch artist casts a cool and steady eye on the pleasures of the physical world.
• At Manchester Art Gallery

What we learned this week

What happened when Freud asked Bacon to unzip his trousers

Why a band of academics are up in arms about some drilling in Florence

How William Hogarth dealt with the frosty glances of passers by

Why slow burners are wont to triumph in the Turner prize

Why Jeremy Deller believes "it's human nature to want to see when you've fucked up"

Image of the week

Your Art Weekly

Have you seen any of these shows? What have you enjoyed this week? Give your review in the comments below or tweet us your verdict using #artweekly.

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December 05 2011

The special ones: why art needs the Turner prize

In an age where we follow the crowd and glorify the ordinary in art, the Turner prize picks out the handful of extraordinary artists who truly deserve acclaim

One of the most fascinating arguments in Charles Saatchi's article in the Guardian on Saturday is his claim that many people in the art world "simply cannot tell a good artist from a weak one".

This opens up one of the most interesting questions in the whole world of contemporary art. That same issue arises every year at Turner prize time – which is where we are now. It's one thing to revile the whole of modern art and anyone who likes it, as does a Stuckist painter in a series of paintings starring me as their villain. It is much harder to sort the sheep from the goats, and try to identify what is worthwhile in the art of our time.

That's what Saatchi says curators, critics, and dealers and collectors fail to do. In fact he says they have no "eye" at all, and just pretend to love what everyone else happens to be pretending to love.

It's true. At any one time, there are waves of art-world enthusiasm for particular artists that go way beyond the artist's actual qualities. Broaden your view across the whole range of applauded contemporary artists and I reckon that about 70% of them are no good at all. This is only logical. The numbers of artists acclaimed and feted in Britain today exceed any possible real figure of truly outstanding artists in any one country at any one time.

Quantity, not quality, is the ethos of bienniales and art fairs. Critics reviewing the Venice Biennale simply accept that the vast majority of works will be boring and trivial, ignore it, and leap on the stuff they like. This year I felt it was a good Biennale because I liked five or six things – out of hundreds.

That actually is what art is like: out of hundreds of people who want to be artists, you are lucky if one has genuine talent. Real imagination and the ability to translate it into art come rarely, and even the best artists may only be truly good for a few years.

Discrimination should be the first rule of the art scene, because there is no value for anyone in glorifying the ordinary. The job is the find the extraordinary, and support that.

It's interesting how passionately audiences in New York responded to Alexander McQueen's posthumous exhibition at the Met. Evidently, the fashion world is much better than the art world at discerning real talent and celebrating the genuine stars, not the also-rans.

The worst problem with contemporary art is this suspension of critical faculties, the craven readiness to say the new and the cool must be great, by definition.

This is why the Turner prize matters. It is one moment when artists are judged instead of all being lumped together in a merry carnival. Once a year in December, a jury sits in a room and argues about what is truly good in art. Sometimes the decisions baffle and enrage me. They hurt the also-rans as much as they help the winner. But the Turner jury has a genuine chance to resist the tide of uncritical fashion and recognise the authentic, original handful of artists who truly deserve acclaim. I hope this year's Turner goes to George Shaw, a real artist if ever I saw one. And I hope the arguments that visitors enjoy are deep and serious and bitter – because passionate criticism is the only cure for the dreary feast of art for cool's sake.


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October 26 2011

Adrian Searle: 'It's confusing. But it's the Turner prize'

Adrian Searle passes his verdict on the Turner prize 2011 in Gateshead, where Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd, Karla Black and George Shaw mix mediums to unsettling effect



October 22 2011

Turner prize 2011 - review

Baltic, Gateshead; Hayward Gallery, London

George Shaw is an oddity in recent Turner prize history in that his paintings do exactly what they say on the tin. The tins in question are the little pots of Humbrol model paints with which he creates his meticulous one-size-fits-all scenes from the place he grew up, Tile Hill in Coventry. Eight of them are presented for his Turner prize 2011 show at the Baltic, four of which are new pieces. They quickly do away with arguments about sentiment and the limitations of simple depiction, and demand that you look.

If there is a soundtrack playing behind Shaw's compositions of the returned-to terrain of his 1980s adolescence it is the Specials' "Ghost Town". He finds traces of human occupation in his excavation of this recent past, like the shades of scrubbed-out graffiti on an end-of-terrace wall, but mostly this place is as emptied of life as Pompeii. He chooses his angles carefully. The places he dwells on, like his past itself, are boarded up and closed down to him. In the brick-built lock-ups of The Resurface even the ingrained child's-bike landscape of puddles and potholes, the gravelly contours of empty Sunday afternoons foregrounded in much of Shaw's painting, has been Tarmac-ed over.

Elsewhere, he can get only as close to the boxy houses of a new cul-de-sac as the wonky builders' fencing and rutted brownfield no man's land will allow. In The Assumption, his old primary school may have been razed but the gates remain stubbornly locked – one strut pulled out of true by some forgotten accident – along with the vestiges of the "Keep Clear" sign on the road.

Shaw's hobbyist's paints and Airfix eye for detail capture the diminished postwar reimagination of his corner of the city with an obsessive, metallic precision: the slowly accreted landfill mountain of black plastic sacks in The Same Old Crap; the brilliant comic incongruity of Landscape With Dog Shit Bin, an omphalos of council scarlet in the centre of a landscape leached of green by the drabness of the day and the neglected tiredness of verges and hedging.

Philip Larkin, another Coventry exile – Shaw now lives in north Devon – would have loved these paintings, but they are made with love as much as any kind of bitterness. They are also a hard act to follow.

The three other Turner nominees at the Baltic all make a strong fist of it, though. Martin Boyce is also much concerned with the interface between concrete and jungle. His work interrogates the implications of early modernist ideas of nature, in particular a photograph of four angular "tree" sculptures made by the artists Joel and Jan Martel in 1925.

He uses the leaf forms to create a kind of prefabricated ode to autumn; at ceiling height the stylised leaves become an elaborate lighting rig; flattened art deco versions of the pattern are adopted for ventilation grilles and a three-dimensional take becomes a waste bin. The floor is littered with paraffin-paper leaves artfully blown into piles.

Within this idealised municipal park, Boyce makes more personal statements; his angular forms are the basis of a self-invented hieroglyph typeface, etched into the school-desk surface of a work table inspired by an Eames design and referencing a Calder mobile. A utopian breeze from the 1920s seems to threaten to blow through these works and animate them – of nature and public spaces recrafted in harmony by the artist – but they remain as curiously inert and ghostly as George Shaw's shopping precincts.

Next door, there is creative nostalgia of a different kind in Karla Black's pastel swags and scrunched-up sugar paper hills and valleys which fill the room. The smells and colours are of a nursery school, and Black's make-believe landscape looks like a wilful return to more innocent artistic freedoms. She colours her polythene clouds by whacking them in a bin bag full of Early Learning Centre chalks until the colour sticks; pink bath bombs have part-exploded on her chalky hillsides. Beyond the sense of play there are primal psychologies at work, of a pure infant engagement with colour and material and form and, through adult eyes, all the loss of wonder it implies.

Hilary Lloyd's films are also hung up on barriers to wonder, especially the difficulties of looking itself. Moon is a pair of vertical screens on each of which 21 moving images of a full moon behind a clock tower outside the artist's window are projected. None will stay still for a moment; they flicker and bounce and move in and out of frame. You are reminded of the fragmentary rods and cones of vision, the way even the solidest of objects is pieced together from flickering fragments in the brain. Lloyd emphasises partiality – Shirt, a concentrated close up of a striped and spotted fabric, is a limited but smart illustration of how looking is as much to do with language as form – and you find yourself beginning to apply the same doubts to the complicated bridges and buildings that make up Gateshead through the adjacent window.

Going straight to the George Condo retrospective at the Hayward in London, after these discreet and concentrated slices of attention on Tyneside, is perhaps not the ideal juxtaposition. Condo's world is decidedly broad brush and translatlantic.

Having hung out with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the heady New York of 1980, Condo has trademarked a personal purgatorial cartoon world that is one part Francis Bacon, two parts Bugs Bunny. His satirical objects are the perceived grotesques of our times – The Stockbroker a jug-eared knucklehead with his pants down, a limp rag doll standing in for his manhood, or The Executive, who is pictured, for comic effect, beneath a dangling carrot (the Queen, in nine versions, and Jesus, in two, come in for similar Looney Tunes treatment).

Much is made of Condo's internal menagerie of characters – as if this were unusual among cartoonists – and the speed at which he works. His more recent semi-abstractions tend to ape art history standards – harlequins in search of a Picasso or whatever; Old masters are recast with his speciality gurning faces, in the same spirit that the Chapman brothers defaced their Goyas, but without the sacrilegious questions raised.

Satire generally requires some specificity; Condo mines instead the archetypal – the homeless drunk woman with a windmilling drinking arm; the dinner-jacketed toff with an unhinged libido – and attempts to make it extreme enough to resonate.

It didn't, for me, as a rule. I liked his Uncle Joe not so much for the figure's post-coital leer and the champagne glass balanced on the upturned sole of his foot, but for the fact that his mad, staring eye was somewhat reminiscent of Steve Bell's Tony Blair and the visual echo seemed fitting. In this kind of context, Condo's portraits of Her Majesty, goggle-eyed in most, a carrot through her head in one, surprise principally for their laziness. Quite endearingly, the artist acts as his own cheerleader in the catalogue – though the unlikely duo of Will Self and Kanye West also tout his genius. "They may not be pretty," Condo explains of his portraits, "but I think we can all see ourselves in these pictures; they are so hideous and yet so utterly real." Speak for yourself, George.


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October 21 2011

World of miseries

In the compact surrounds of Gateshead's Baltic gallery, George Shaw's miserabilist suburban brand of metaphysical painting marks him out as a strong contender for the 2011 Turner prize

The exhibition spaces given over to the four contenders for the 2011 Turner prize at Baltic in Gateshead are smaller than at Tate Britain, where the show usually takes place. This is no bad thing: the artists have to be concise.

When she represented Scotland at this year's Venice Biennale, Karla Black completely overdid her installation, and her Baltic show is much tighter, though still a joyous, childish mess. The way in is through a kind of airlock of dangling, paint-smeared polythene sheeting, like going into a spray-shed in a garage. Suspended precariously on bits of sellotape, you think the whole thing might collapse at any moment. Dried colour, poorly adhered to the plastic, sheers off in crumbly shards onto the floor.

Beyond are nests of scrunched-up cellophane and great wodges of torn and folded paper, painted in thin pinks and aqueous greens, the insipid tints of bath products and the poster paints kids use. A faint odour of deodorant and moisturiser hangs over Black's room-filling terrain of bulging, crinkled paper. It's like a kindergarten rockery. There's even a sort of grotto to rustle through.

Amid it all are Lush bath bombs, like little pastel cannonballs, and drifts and mounds of chalky pigment on the floor. I wish it were all more precise, or added up to something magical. I want more mystery and pleasure. I feel like mum, hands on hips, shouting: "Clear up all this mess NOW, or no TV for you!" This is painting or sculpture by other means, but it's all indeterminate abstraction, with its little formal niceties, the rips and folds and dustings of colour, the occasional finger-painted daubs. Black's work is fading on me, fast.

While Black attempts a sort of pre-linguistic, haptic play, Hilary Lloyd revels in a kind of techno-fetishism. Her room at the Baltic is alive with images, screens, trolleys and swanky suspension units. The ranks of projectors, the pole-mounted screens, the DVD players and monitors are as important as the hovering, flickering images they display. Images of part of a tower block shuffle about one screen, sheering and joggling against milky whiteness. Here they come, there they go. The rhythm of their passing is nice. In another work, the pistonlike movements of an unknown, silhouetted object – it could be a sink-plunger – thrust this way and that against a wooden floor.

The camera dwells on a patterned shirt, looking like an indoor landscape in a white room and, on a second screen, drifting off into static, or an inverted bleached-out after-image of the same thing. I am not really sure what I am looking at. Nor whether to sit and look, wander about, focus on the images, at the apparatus, even at my own shoes. All this drifting is the point, I think. One wall of Lloyd's space is a floor-to-ceiling window. Against it two screens, mounted one high above the other, display a fragmented, nocturnal London. Low-volume police sirens wail from the speakers. Big Ben hoves in and out of view. Is that the moon, or headlights in the night? The fragmentary images jerk and wallow around with a kind of rhythmic urgency, against the real, elevated view through the window, Newcastle and Gateshead going round a bend in the river. The real view wins.

Soon, all Lloyd's paraphernalia of projectors and DVD players, monitors and digital HD-branded hardware will look out of date. Later it will acquire a kind of redundant technology retro-chic. The images they display will be as inscrutable and inconsequential as they appear now, still swaying, going in and out of focus, still doing their thing, interminably as well as to no particular end. Paradoxically, that's when they might become interesting.

I like Martin Boyce's room very much. It feels like a place that's both real and fictional, present and past. From the decorative, fake ventilation grilles set low down in the walls to the suspended ceiling of flip-flapping white metal shapes hanging beneath the lights, casting a dapple of geometric shadows over the walls, it is a good place to be. The centrepiece is a library table, all canted angles, hidden over-slung lighting, solidity and frippery, confusing itself with a hanging mobile that dangles from above on a chain. Taking its inspiration from a library table by French designer Jean Prouvé, the table has a wood worktop inscribed with fragmentary letters and words, like an old school desk. It is an object you'd like to sit at, thinking complicated thoughts.

Boyce's installation is a play on modernist high style, with a twist. Most of all I like the geometric autumn leaves, made from waxy crepe paper, that drift and pile up in corners of the room. The whole installation is a play on insides and outsides, mental space and physical place. Look in the wonky rubbish bin and its binbag turns out to be woven, like an upturned, involuted jumper. I can't catch all the references to utopian modernist aesthetics, but just being here is pleasure enough. Perhaps Lloyd and Black want their installations to be places to be and linger in, too, places to sit and wait and ponder. But I guess the crowds won't allow that kind of meandering desultory contemplation.

George Shaw's paintings, on the other hand, depict places you want to escape from. You can take Shaw out of Tile Hill, Coventry, but you can't take the post-war housing estates out of Shaw. This is his perennial subject, with its abandoned 1950s follies, the Barratt homes and 60s semis, the scruffy woodlands and graffitied shop-fronts. Where Constable might paint a distant farmboy in a red shirt, to counterpoint all the bosky greenery, Shaw gives us a red-painted dogshit bin.

The feral woodlands, the brown field sites and the wanton atmosphere demarcate a familiar zone. Lucian Freud and Michael Andrews sometimes painted a similarly forlorn decrepitude, and, at his best, so did LS Lowry. Shaw records a perennial Sunday – or possibly Thursday – afternoon in indeterminate weather, and there's never anyone about. Shaw's paintings are always rendered in Humbrol enamel, the paint hobbyists and kids hard at it with their model plane kits use. Or did, before computer games took over.

Shaw has eight smallish paintings in the Turner show, some of which were shown in his immensely popular exhibition at the Baltic earlier this year, for which he was nominated. Shaw is popular because he speaks about his corner of England – though it could be anywhere – with a kind of melancholic truth. Shaw's art chimes in with an England of Tony Hancock and Philip Larkin, Orwell and Morrissey's Every Day is Like Sunday. Shaw's is a miserabilist suburban sort of metaphysical painting. The paint itself has a nothingy, curdled quality, like the place and the weather it depicts. It's all atmosphere, or the lack of one. And his art is always the same, everything just getting slowly worse and unloved and a little more embittered, just like England itself.

Should Shaw win? I prefer the hope I find in Boyce, whose elegant, astringent aesthetic appeals. There's hope in what he offers. But somehow I think Shaw should win, with his small miseries. He gives us the world we live in.


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October 06 2011

Muted masterpieces: contemporary art that does not need the wow factor

Richard Wilson's 'lake of oil' was the first artwork to give me a theatrical thrill. But there are quieter, more subtle artists on the march this autumn, such as Turner prize nominee George Shaw

What work of art first made you feel the wow factor? This does not mean just being impressed by, or loving, a work of art. I mean the particular theatrical vibe of contemporary art, that thrills, entertains, and diverts the spectator in a way that makes you just say ... "Wow."

The British modern art season is about to enter mad mode. With the new Tate Turbine Hall commission, the Turner prize, and the Frieze art fair all imminent, it is time to gargle and exercise your vocal chords ready to say ... "Wow." Or perhaps just say it in your head, and skim-read some art theory so you can mouth more impressive phrases. Or stay at home and watch television, or do the garden. Hey, I didn't have this bright idea of compressing a year's modern art into a week. Don't turn on me about it.

Anyway, the first work of art that brought the contemporary wow factor home to me was Richard Wilson's sleek and dark, reflective and apparently bottomless lake of oil, 20:50, which I first saw at the old Saatchi Gallery in Swiss Cottage. Walking for the first time down the narrow aisle between the two halves of the room-filling installation, with oil pressing against their edges, held in by molecular forces as it peeped over the steel walls, was awe-inspiring. The glassy reflections created a sense of floating in the air, so you felt at once menaced by oil and in danger of falling: as I write this I remember that strange sensation of both claustrophobia and vertigo.

Here we are, and you can still see that definitive work of contemporary art at the relocated Saatchi Gallery today. In the early 1990s, critics often carped that the taste for the wow factor was really the product of Saatchi's advertising sensibility. He even bought a pickled shark!

Now we know it was more than that. Something about the theatricality of today's art liberates and greases the pleasure principle. That thrill of going to a museum and getting a theme park ride is very real, and apparently universal.

Yet this autumn, among the rides, there are some imitations of a quieter art. The Tate Turbine Hall stole Saatchi's thunder long ago and is today the definitive arena of culture as spectacle. Yet this year's artist there is Tacita Dean. Her films, drawings, photographs and montages resist the wow factor. They make you think instead. She is truly serious, and in the best way mysterious, and her Tate piece promises to be a real event, not merely as spectacle but as sombre, subtle, complex art.

Similarly, in the Turner prize, the most fascinating contender is George Shaw, a painter of depth and passion. Shaw is a quietly miraculous artist. His paintings are eerie scenes of the ruinous edges of modern British life. Surreal and silent, they beckon your imagination. Nothing could be further from the culture of wow than the art of George Shaw. No one has ever seemed a more deserving candidate for the Turner prize.

So the real artistic wonders this autumn will leave the wow factor far behind.


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May 21 2011

A new wave of serious artists

Tracey Emin is enjoying a retrospective at the Hayward, but the country's rising stars take a more practical approach

The reign of "the concept" in modern British art is finally over: long live "the object". As some of the former rebels of the notorious Young British Artist movement are accused of selling out to "the establishment", a new generation is taking their place, flaunting an altogether new aesthetic.

The freshest art on the contemporary scene appears to have turned its back on the ironic jokes and personal confessions epitomised by Tracey Emin's notorious unmade bed and Damien Hirst's dead floating shark. Emin's high-profile retrospective at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank may be pulling in the London crowds, but she alienated many of her peers last week by confirming her Tory sympathies and backing the government's latest round of arts cuts. Damien Hirst also ruffled some liberal feathers by happily rubbing shoulders with billionaires at the last Davos summit.

And as the most famous and iconoclastic of the YBAs start to lose their shine as role models, the art world's best-known curators and commentators claim a new earnestness is sweeping the country's better art schools and informing the work of their successors.

One of the biggest names in contemporary painting is on the shortlist for the coveted Turner prize this year. George Shaw, at 44, is roughly the same age as both Hirst or Emin yet is one of the leaders of the emerging "serious" tendency. Shaw concentrates on the oddly beguiling nature of ugly cityscapes with his watercolours and enamel paint studies. He insists that his work is not a reaction to the tricksy habits of the YBAs, but art critics beg to differ.

With his show, The Sly and Unseen Day, opening on Tuesday at the South London Gallery, the Coventry-born artist says he is bemused to find himself the centre of attention: "My work was not done as a response. It was a conversation I was having with myself. Then I noticed other people were interested and I had to pinch myself."

Shaw originally intended to become a performance artist and studied installation, photography, video and sound, before discarding it all. "I realised a lot of stuff I was doing was just rubbish. I was just adopting the same sort of things that had gone on before. So I went back to what I used to think at college, which was that the most shocking thing you could do would be to make a watercolour of a tree." At that point Shaw felt "an installation with a dead baby in it" had become the new conformity.

Other coming stars are both younger and, for now, relatively obscure. On Wednesday last week the annual Catlin art prize, which celebrates promising new work, was awarded to 22-year-old Russell Hill from Rugby. Hill works with everyday objects to expose the hidden threats or contradictions lying dormant in apparently banal things such as air fresheners or an oil can.

"The main thing for me is to make my work as articulate as possible in terms of themes and messages," Hill said yesterday. "I always maintain the function of the object. That's important to me. If I change an oil can, then it's not an oil can. If there are elements of ambiguity when people see it, I have to accept that."

He uses juxtaposition to point up his ideas about objects. So the "DIY nostalgia" of an item such as an oil can is coupled with fabric softener then displayed in a deliberately "clinical, harsh setting – like a hospital product".

"It is a piece about two lubricants," he explains. "There is a real sense of exploitation in my work. I tend to strip back objects and make people more aware of the underhand nature of the things that we see around us."

Hill's influences, he claims, come from abroad rather than from famous YBAs, although he acknowledges a debt to Martin Creed, the Scot who won the 2001 Turner prize with his flickering light in an empty room.

Justin Hammond, curator of the Catlin show and editor of the prize's guide, who spotted the artist at his degree show in Wimbledon, has found that many young art graduates are focusing on objects in the world around them.

"There's a lot more serious work in the past couple of years, a lot less jokey one-liners and less frivolity," he said. "Instead, there's a lot of work with statistics now, for example, and there are more real objects being used in sculpture. Russell's work is so precise, so clinical and so clean. It was obvious someone had obsessed over it. He was the unanimous choice this year."

Joanne Hummel Newell, who will be exhibiting her work at a satellite show at the Venice Biennale next month, is another artist excited by the significance of objects. The 28-year-old uses found items in combination with collage to make intriguing sculptures.

And one of the stars of next week's prestigious sculpture show, The Shape of Things to Come at the Saatchi Gallery in south-west London, is also known for shedding new light on items of rubbish. David Batchelor makes installations from things he has found on the streets of the capital then turns them into brightly coloured light boxes. His work is a mission to prove that left-overs can be made beautiful.

"When I make works from light boxes, or old plastic bottles with lights inside, I hope the illumination suspends their objecthood to some degree, and makes the viewer see them a little differently – see them as colours before seeing them as objects," he has explained. At 55, Batchelor, who is Scottish, has blazed a trail for this kind of practical sculpture, while the YBAs experimented with conceptual ruses.

Not all emerging artists have turned away from the Concept. For the first time, the Catlin prize line-up for 2011 included a performance artist, Leah Capaldi. For the show Capaldi sprays two actors with a bottle of Chanel perfume each before they walk off around the Tramshed gallery in Shoreditch, East London. "The idea came from when I was at the British Museum a while ago looking at a statue and a woman walked past me wearing so much perfume it was unbelievable. I found it stifling and had a real physical reaction; I had to walk to the other end of the gallery to get out of that space," she recalls.

Visitors to the Catlin show can judge the impact for themselves at noon today when Capaldi performs for the last time before the exhibition closes at 6pm.

For Sarah Ryan, director of online gallery Newbloodart, the prospect of spotting emerging new trends is appealing. Her yearly task of visiting 100 summer degree shows is just beginning.

"We have just started with Oxford Brookes at the weekend and noticed a lot of integrated work that brings in all the sensory aspects, a more multi-discipline approach. This is immersive work, using sculpture and sound and performance. Maybe it has something to do with all the technical advances going on around us that make this easier to do."


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May 06 2011

Artists kiss goodbye to London

The Turner prize shortlist – determinedly non-metropolitan – shows that the British art scene is broader and more geographically spread than ever

Every year the Turner prize shortlist is drawn up by four judges with individual tastes, outlooks and backgrounds. There is no continuity, and the prize is not a lifetime achievement award, but rather aims to rigorously reward the four best exhibitions staged by artists under 50 who are based in Britain. There's a limit, then, to the grand, sweeping conclusions one can come to about the state of the art based on the year's Turner prize contenders. And yet, and yet... there is a sense in which, taken together, the nominations, over their 27-year history, provide a crude kind of barometer to taste and trends in British art. Even that's not simple, though. It's easy to talk about a kind of Britart "heyday" in the mid-1990s for the prize: Damien Hirst won in 1995 and Gillian Wearing in 1997; but it was the sui generis Douglas Gordon who won in 1996; and Tracey Emin, though she was nominated in 1999, lost out to Steve McQueen, too much of an individual to be plugged into a YBA classification. And of course, it's impossible to distance the Turner prize from its reception: the prize has always been "about" how its artists have been labelled by the media as much as what its artists' practices have actually been aiming to achieve.

Bearing in mind all those provisos, then, what I would nevertheless extrapolate from this year's shortlist is that the centre of British art seems to be drifting away (and not before time) from London. This year, there are two Glasgow artists, Martin Boyce and Karla Black, on the list. Of the others, Hilary Lloyd is based in London but painter George Shaw in Devon. Last year's winner was Susan Philipsz, who was born in Glasgow, studied in Belfast and lives in Berlin. The year before that, was another Glasgow artist: the English-born but Scotland-raised Richard Wright, who studied at Glasgow School of Art and still lives in the city. Lucy Skaer, who also trained in Glasgow, joined him on that shortlist. What we are seeing is the success of a generation of artists, now mid-career, who were educated at Glasgow at the height of its powers (some, but not all, coming from the environmental art department which had such effect on those who passed through it). It's interesting that none of the artists on this year's list completed their undergraduate degrees in London (it was Sheffield and Newcastle for Shaw and Lloyd).

There's only so far you can go with this: next year every shortlisted artist will probably live in Hackney. But I'd like to think – as juror Katrina Brown put it – that the geographical spread is a sign of the increasing maturity of the contemporary art scene in Britain. It is no longer concentrated in the few square miles around east London, but finds ways of flourishing all around the country: surely something that is echoed – and will be helped in the future – by the proliferation of contemporary art galleries outside the capital, from the beautifully refurbished Mostyn in north Wales, to the about-to-open Hepworth in Wakefield and FirstSite in Colchester, the newly minted Turner Contemporary in Margate and the recent Mima in Middlesbrough and Baltic in Gateshead – the last being where, appropriately, the Turner prize exhibition will be held this year.


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May 04 2011

Turner prize shortlist 2011: the artists – in pictures

Painters George Shaw and Karla Black are joined on this year's Turner prize shortlist by sculptor Martin Boyce and video artist Hilary Lloyd



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