Monday night in Gateshead: the Turner Prize ceremony 2011

By Mark Sheerin | 13 December 2011
A night-time photograph of BALTIC gallery lit up in preparation for the 2011 Turner Prize
BALTIC on the Tyneside waterfront - warmer inside than out© all rights reserved
Forty-eight hours before the 2011 Turner Prize, the words formal black tie leap out at me from the invite and panic sets in. I have no tuxedo. I have no means of hiring one. Of course, come Monday night in Tyneside there wasn’t a bow tie in sight. Many of the other male guests seem to have dispensed with ties altogether. I overdid my suit.

But all are pleased to be inside. The square outside BALTIC may as well have been a Russian steppe as far as the Southerners here are concerned. The venue glows warm. And surely not since the six-storey building was decommissioned by Hovis has there been so much milling around; we get swept into a lift and let out in a 6th floor bar.

One assumed this was where the presentation was to take place. But no, it seems we are watching on telly. Excited chatter makes it impossible to hear Lauren Laverne. But remarkably, the moment prize presenter Mario Testino takes to the podium, a hush falls on the assembled throng quicker than a 50lb sack of flour.

Colour photo of Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce standing beside award-presenter Mario Testino
Winner Martin Boyce alongside award presenter Mario Testino© Colin Davison
There is jubilation in some quarters when he reads the name Martin… and widespread rejoicing when Mr Boyce, the winner, takes the opportunity to celebrate Britain’s endangered art schools. Or were those cries of joy at the sight of a streaker lowering the tone.

My wine glass is assertively filled once or twice before a general drift in the direction of the lifts suggests the next port of call may be the galleries on level three. But sadly the exhibition space is still closed and it takes several trips up and down the elevator to realise this. Confusion reigns for a while.

The show is, however, worth it. As pointed out elsewhere, this year has seen a very strong shortlist and the range provides exhilarating contrasts from room to room. And while I usually frown upon visiting exhibitions only to admire the view from various windows, it has to be said the sight of the river by night is stunning.

From this point onwards, my invitation from Nokia gives me every reason to hang out in the sponsored after party on level two. I fail to spot any of the finalists. But when the DJ drops Roxy Music’s In Crowd it does seem likely this might be the place to be - in Gateshead on a Monday night at any rate.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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