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July 10 2012

Tribute to Edward Krasinski at Kurimanzutto, Mexico City

The group show En todo y en todas partes at Kurimanzutto, Mexico City is a tribute to the Polish avant-garde artist Edward Krasiński (1925–2004). The exhibition, curated by Polish curator Andrzej Przywara includes works by Karla Black, Marieta Chirulescu, Babette Mangolte, and Susanne M. Winterling.

Edward Krasiński was born in 1925 in Lutsk (Volhynia) into a Polish aristocratic family. The artist became known for his use of blue Scotch tape in his actions, sculptures and photo-based works from 1968 onwards. Krasiński pasted the 19 mm wide blue line around trees, walls, gallery windows, etc. Always running at the height of 130 cm.

En todo y en todas partes. Tribute to Edward Krasiński at Kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Opening reception, June 30, 2012. Video by Diego García Sotomoro.

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June 22 2012

Jenny Saville, Yoko Ono and Ai Weiwei – the week in art

Saville is out to show she's the feminist Freud, Ono divulges her hopes, book tips and snapshots, and Ai Weiwei is barred from his own court hearing – all in your weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Jenny Saville

Is this painter of pungent flesh a feminist Lucian Freud for the 21st century... or an overblown media phenomenon? Saville has a striking style, but critics have never agreed on the quality of her work. Big red blotches of pigment do not guarantee brilliance. Here is a chance to make up your mind about an artist who straddles fine art and pop culture.
· Modern Art Oxford, from 23 June until 16 September

Other exhibitions this week

Edvard Munch
One of the true giants of modern art brings a Scandinavian chill to the British summer.
· Tate Modern, London, from 28 June until 14 October

Diane Arbus
The extremes of pathos and mockery in this photographers' art epitomise the power of photography itself.
· Timothy Taylor gallery, London, from 26 June until 17 August

John Currin
Freaky paintings to amuse and appal.
· Sadie Coles HQ, London, until 18 August

Karla Black
Last chance to catch a show by this recent Turner nominee on her home turf.
· Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, until 24 June

Masterpiece of the week

Rembrandt, Girl at a Window

Is she a servant, a courtesan? The gold chain around her neck suggests sensuality and is typical of the way Rembrandt glorified women. Whoever she is and whatever relationship – if any – she may have had with the painter, this young woman lives forever in his art.
· Dulwich Picture Gallery

Image of the week

What we learned this week

That Ai Weiwei grows ever more convinced of the need to stand up to Chinese authorities – after he is barred from his own hearing

What Yoko Ono's top book tips are, what her personal photo albums look like – and how she answered your questions

That the Stirling prize shortlist this year is chock full of austerity chic

Who Turner shortlister Luke Fowler has taken as his latest film subject

How Chris Ofili has found collaborating with the Royal Ballet – backdrops, bunions and all

And finally

Have you uploaded anything to the Guardian Art and design Flickr page yet?

Or shared any of your art with us?

Do you follow us on Twitter?

Or on Facebook?

Have you seen our Tumblr?

Have you signed up for the Art Weekly newsletter?


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April 24 2012

The new Scottish colourists

Charles Rennie Mackintosh spattered with paint, a diamond forged in the UK riots, and a bouncy Stonehenge: Adrian Searle has a ball in Glasgow

'Make art so bad they turn away from it, turn back to life," wrote the US artist Paul Thek in one of his notebooks. There's a lesson there, but it's a strategy that could easily backfire. Thek's sketchbooks and drawings fill vitrine after vitrine at the Modern Institute in Glasgow. You could spend all day poring over them, with their landscape watercolours and drawings, bits of bodies, Christ as an erect penis, pages of poems, thoughts on art and religious sentiment. Thek died in 1988. Having been a leading – if not cult – figure in US art in the 1960s and 70s, he ended up disillusioned and marginalised, but clung on to art even as Aids claimed him. His posthumous career is only now gaining ground.

This quiet, essentially archival show is the most surprising thing in this year's Glasgow Festival of Visual Art, though Wolfgang Tillmans at the Common Guild is captivating, too. Displayed in casually elegant arrays, in odd corners and on the stairs, Tillmans' images take us from total photographic abstraction to a tiny black-and-white image of bare trees, from a colourful closeup of a car's headlight to a portrait of an onion.

Tillmans' sense of display – the jumps in scale, the shifts in subject and focus in works that are hung high and low across the walls – echoes our own drifts in concentration. Richard Wright's drawings on paper at Kelvingrove art gallery attempt something similar. There are even some up by the air vents and over the doorways. Architectural fantasies and echoes of Islamic calligraphy, mad whorls and symmetry buried in chaos: Wright makes you wonder how he works with such feverish concentration for so many hours, days, months. Rhythm and pace hold it all together.

The same is true of a couple of shows at the Centre for Contemporary Arts. Rob Kennedy is as much curator as artist, and has insinuated weird, enigmatic films into the workshop areas and storage spaces of the CCA, as well as in the main galleries. He's even balanced monitors in piles of rubbish amassed from the dismantled walls of previous shows. Amid it all hangs a dark Walter Sickert painting from 1907, called Jack the Ripper's Bedroom. Sickert's landlady suggested the ripper might have been her previous tenant. It is a haunted, evil painting, bad enough to make you want to turn back to life, as Thek suggested – or at least go outdoors.

What I like best at the CCA is the small installation upstairs by Charlotte Prodger. A big 1970s boom-box plays Prodger's descriptions of visiting a gay club in Berlin, her thoughts on dance music (she's also a DJ), space, light and being in the world. Thek might have approved. On monitors, little films ripped from YouTube show a young man carefully cutting up trainers and swapping another pair with his boyfriend. It's all very queer: a space of dangerous liaisons, splices and cuts. It has something to do with Prodger's love-hate relationship with structuralist film-making, she says, which provides a sort of bass line to her art.

On a makeshift platform in the Mackintosh Gallery at the Glasgow School of Art, sculptures of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret MacDonald, made by Dutch artist Folkert de Jong, look down on the school's plastercasts of Michelangelo's slaves, and at other De Jong sculptures. These include William of Orange and a woman dragged from the Seine in the 19th century and brought back to life.

De Jong's figures often have weird coloured splats on their faces, while their clothes are spattered with drools of quick-setting resin. The casts of Michelangelo's slaves, and of the ancient Nike of Samothrace, loom over many of his Styrofoam people with their fluorescing, noxious colour. The festive and the grim, the lively and the dead – all have their place.

At Tramway, California artist Kelly Nipper's Black Forest has live, masked dancers going through movements devised by modern dance pioneer Rudolf Laban. You want to take off your shoes and join in, or take a nap. It's a nice space to inhabit, with huge curtains and patterns everywhere. Nothing much happens. Then again, I didn't really want it to.

Up at the new Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Mexican artist Teresa Margolles talks about the murders (especially of women), drug wars and corruption that blight the city of Juárez, across the border from El Paso in Texas. Her best work is a slide show presenting photographs of Juárez in the 1970s and 80s: family events, wrestling matches, political rallies, public and private celebration. The images parade across the wall, without commentary.

Less successful is her attempt to comment on last year's UK riots. Collecting burnt detritus from the aftermath, Margolles had it turned into a diamond. It sits in a wall-mounted box. The words "A Diamond for the Crown" are carved on another wall. What links the riots with the horrors of Juárez? It's capitalism, dummy. To reinforce the point, Margolles has covered a billboard with filthy bits of sacking, stained from Mexican crime scenes. Apparently, they're soiled with blood and shit, death and dust. There is no doubting her seriousness; the obviousness of much of her work is deliberate, a punch in the gut.

Karla Black, at the Gallery of Modern Art, does her best to entertain. Swags of cellophane festoon the ground floor hall, with its high windows, ornate ceiling and Corinthian columns. This is lightness versus gravity, a foil to the building's pompous decoration. As a centrepiece, Black has installed an enormous slab of compressed sawdust, running the length of the gallery. It's like a giant mattress, or the world's biggest tiramisu, with its strata of different-coloured sawdust. There are lots of finnicky details and the magic drains away as you look. The cellophane swags would have been enough.

Time to turn back to life. Dozens of schoolkids are careening about on Jeremy Deller's full-scale inflatable Stonehenge on Glasgow Green, bouncing into and around the stones. Deller's work is a cheery take on heritage and the Cultural Olympiad. Celebratory, interactive and possibly even educational, it ticks all the public art boxes. On the other hand, Deller might be pointing out that our greatest and most solemn monuments have all become sites of entertainment nowadays. Hooray for our increasingly infantilised culture. No wonder his work is called Sacrilege, even if only druids will take offence. This is not bad art; it's life.


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April 21 2012

Glasgow international festival of visual art

A liberating spirit of openness and local involvement – and free lunch – make the city's 2012 art festival winner

In Glasgow, in the marble grandeur of the Mitchell Library, you can borrow a work of art with your books. The librarians will help you choose between a Korean watercolour and a Russian abstract. They don't just stamp your card, or fine you when the art is overdue, they will come to your home and mount Alec Finlay's beautiful word work on the wall or install Henna-Riikka Halonen's marvellous underwater film on your DVD so that you can watch the swimmers perform what amounts to a satirical ballet-cum-circus at any hour of the day or night. The librarians are, of course, artists in disguise.

At Transmission Gallery, artist-run since 1983, they are reading Finnegans Wake every lunchtime in solidarity with reading groups from Antwerp to New Mexico who have been reciting that stupendous novel (sometimes from memory) for decades. On the walls are works that have no market price, since they are simply gifts exchanged between the artists themselves; nor are the names of these artists declared. Anyone can spot Alasdair Gray's mordant two-part graphic sequence, but who made this alarming moss-covered mask or that fantastical curved landscape?

Interpretation, context, value: all are undisclosed. Visitors will have to make up their own minds purely by taking a good old-fashioned look at the actual art.

Leaving with your free CD of Gogol's The Overcoat, you might cross the Clyde to the Tramway, where dancers in Russian costumes shaped like letters of the alphabet are cutting and sculpting that cavernous white space with their disciplined sweeps and arabesques. You can join in, if sufficiently high on the hypnotic black-and-white patterns that progress in geometric series across the wall, and not too afraid of your own nervous laughter.

This multimedia environment, by the Los Angeles artist Kelly Nipper, looks like a cross between Merce Cunningham, Peter Greenaway and the dynamic art of the Russian constructivist Alexander Rodchenko. It is meant to draw you into its all-embracing structure, make you a component of its grand design. And it works. Some of us hung back among the alphabet cushions, but others were soon losing themselves on the dance floor.

Openness – that's the spirit of this year's Glasgow international festival of visual art; openness, involvement and an honest directness. It's what you might expect of the city itself, with its famous warmth, but it is characteristic of the art scene too. Transmission may be the oldest, but it is by no means the only artists' co-operative. Of the 50 or so venues in this year's festival, almost half are run by artists, or writers, or writers who are also artists.

Go to their flat at 83 Hill Street and John Shankie and Andrew Miller will give you lunch in exchange for your conversation; food for thought. Go to the house of the painters Merlin James and Carol Rhodes, at 42 Carlton Place, and you will see an extraordinary miscellany, including paintings by Sickert and Derain, to make one ponder how (and when) contemporary art becomes the art of the past. The Turner prize-winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans is showing new work in the house of the Turner prize-winning film artist Douglas Gordon.

And the oldest of all the city parks, Glasgow Green, has been handed to Jeremy Deller for the installation of an exact facsimile of Stonehenge in inflatable form. Everyone is welcome to leap to their heart's content among these precious stones, this sacred site, no need to be confined (or charged) by English Heritage. The tinge of sacrilege enhances the free-for-all.

GI, as they call it, has a better balance of the local and the international than any other art festival in Britain. Perhaps that is because in Glasgow they so often amount to the same thing. Many of the most prominent shows this year are by artists born or based in Glasgow who have a huge following overseas, such as Richard Wright, Karla Black and Rosalind Nashashibi.

Black has filled the Gallery of Modern Art with 17 tons of sawdust, layered in shades of chocolate and vanilla like a gargantuan block of tiramisu. She calls it, in her increasingly sententious way, Empty Now. Tiny incidents involving makeup are taking place on its crumbling surface, while smaller breakaway events occur on the floor – miniature trees seem to grow back, reconstituted, as it were, from the sawdust. And above it all, colossal swags of polythene and sticky tape dangle like Spanish moss from the ceiling, turning the Corinthian columns into a forest of tree trunks.

The associations run free: cakes, classical arenas, spit-and-sawdust pubs, glossy spiders' webs connecting the ruins of some enchanted wood, baroque, rococo, Carl Andre, Richard Serra (she's always nudging at art history). But that is all. Black is simply delivering enormous hints, and huge headaches for the gallery guards. Her whimsical confections are beginning to seem too much like a trademark.

I loved Nashashibi's 16mm film, Lovely Young People (Beautiful Supple Bodies), a work of outstanding empathy and grace. It shows members of the Scottish Ballet rehearsing scenes from Sleeping Beauty, in turn observed by members of the public. A quartet of old ladies is charmed. A child is surprised. A grandmother is so guilelessly receptive that the camera cannot stop watching her eyes.

The film has no obvious narrative, no climactic incident; its only action, as it were, is the twining of two strands – the dancers, straining, diligent, often apologetic, and the way in which the rehearsal is slowly becoming a performance. So subtle is this convergence that when the pale winter's light traces the profile of two principals towards the end, it is a revelation to see who they really are. The camera glides down to the handcuffs at their waist: two amazed Gorbals policemen.

I'd like to think they might turn up at the Tramway too, for today's chance to be an extra in The Making of Us, a collaboration between artist Graham Fagen, theatre director Graham Eatough and photography director Michael McDonough which, from its dress rehearsal, seems tantalising in its every possible outcome. And there are many, for the scenes of an actor's life and the moral choices he makes to get to the top will be performed in promenade like a medieval mystery play (a noose awaits) while simultaneously filmed from many angles to incorporate the extras' spontaneous responses, then edited accordingly. It's a conceit of real ingenuity, turning the film (and the film industry) inside out. The result will be screened, with further surprises, exactly where it was filmed in the Tramway.

Art festivals throw up hundreds of images and ideas all at once, too many for the mind to carry forever, or even just for the days spent in that city. Sometimes the experience is more burdensome than fulfilling. But this year's GI feels rich, dense, organic, inspiring. I shan't forget the testimonies of the last surviving members of Glasgow's socialist Sunday schools, assembled in Ruth Ewan's celebration of that singular movement which educated so many poor children, nor the images of their May Day parades (Leningrad on Sauchiehall Street, as one recalled).

Nor the belated realisation that Richard Wright's abrupt and delicate drawings, at Kelvingrove, are far more powerful in their epigrammatic way than the wall-sized works that won him the Turner prize.

In Tillmans's show I saw the night sky over Kilimanjaro in a magnificent photograph that beggars belief, as the stars appear to twinkle in front of the distant peak; a poetic truth in that the mountain came after the stars.

And in the grounds of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's House for an Art Lover I had the true festival joy of stumbling on something new: Henry Coombes's coruscatingly zany black- and-white film I Am the Architect, This is Not Happening, This is Unacceptable, in which architecture fights art to a thrilling soundtrack and overtones of Fritz Lang, Francis Picabia and those Russian constructivists. Hard to say in all the wild invention, but I think art won.


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February 29 2012

Karla Black / Solo Exhibition at Stuart Shave / Modern Art, London

For her first solo exhibition with the gallery Modern Art in London, the Scottish artist Karla Black presents new sculptures that utilize light and transparent materials. While the first room is almost empty with the work focusing on the display window, the second exhibition space is dominated by a structure that reminds of a streamer. A closer look shows that there is powder paint pigment on the cellophane and on the floor, as if the artist had powdered the work. All works, including the three cellophane balls in the downstairs space are held in pastel colors.

Karla Black was born in Alexandria, Scotland, in 1972. She studied at Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow. Karla Black represented Scotland at the 54th Venice Biennale. She was shortlisted for the 2011 Turner Prize. Solo exhibitions include Ten Sculptures, Kunsthalle Nürnberg, Nuremberg, Germany (2010); Modern Art Oxford, Oxford (2009); Kunstverein Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany (2009), Migros Museum, Zurich, Switzerland (2009); and West London Projects, London (2008). Karla Black lives and works in Glasgow.

Karla Black / Solo Exhibition at Stuart Shave / Modern Art, London. Opening reception, February 22, 2012.

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November 15 2011

'Art is a boxed-off space where we can behave like animals'

Video: Turner prize contender Karla Black explains the thinking behind her unorthodox, innovative sculptures



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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May 31 2011

Karla Black: 'Don't call my art feminine'

In the Palazzo Pisani, Glasgow-based Turner prize contender sculpts cosmetics into peach and pistachio 'cave paintings'

In the 15th-century Palazzo Pisani, Karla Black has made the kind of work that whets the appetite for the Turner prize, the award she is tipped to win this December: boulder-size bundles of sugar paper chalked over in shades of peach and pistachio and bedecked with talcous mounds of plaster powder; sheets of paper sprayed with fake tan; and balsa wood painted with eyeshadow. In one series of rooms, the floors are scattered with soil on which sit industrial-size cubes of soap from toiletries chain Lush, a sponsor of the exhibition.

Don't, though, whatever you do, call this apparent onrush of girliness feminine. She finds this description of her art disgusting. "It is ridiculous and annoying," she says. "Why do people call it feminine? Because it is light, fragile, pale? Because it is weak, impermanent? When you start going to work on it you realise how ridiculous the description is. How can a work of art be feminine?"

It is certainly Black's year. Aside from being the insiders' favourite, neck and neck with painter George Shaw, to win this year's Turner prize, as Scotland's representative at the Venice Biennale she has been thrust on to the largest and most prestigious international stage for art.

Though not an official participating country – Mike Nelson represents the UK in the Biennale proper, eligible to win the Golden Lion for the best national exhibition – this is the fifth time Scotland has staged its own "collateral" show, an increasingly important platform for the nation's artists. Martin Boyce, fielded by Scotland in 2009, is also shortlisted for the Turner prize.

Her sculpture, Black says, is absolutely non-representational. "There is no image, no metaphor," she says. Rather, the point is the sculpture's sheer materiality, its heft and presence and fact of being in the world as it confronts the viewer. The use of materials gleaned from Boots' cosmetics counter, she explains, is not a kind of feminist critique of sculpture – "though I am a feminist". It is, she says, not as simple as that: "When I am spraying fake tan on paper I am actually thinking of people making cave paintings. They would hold the colour in their mouth and spit it out: that was the first spray paint."

This autumn, Black will be preparing for her Turner prize exhibition at the Baltic centre for contemporary art, Gateshead. Having been far from a household name, she will be pushed out into the public gaze, her work seen by thousands and pored over by the media. "I'm pleased," she said. "But I am keeping my head down. I have a lot of work to do and I am concentrating on it. Next year it will all be over, and it will be someone else's turn."

Karla Black is at the Palazzo Pisani (S Marina), Calle de le Erbe, Cannaregio 6103, Venice, from Saturday until 27 November


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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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