Phil Collins - frontrunner with his show within a show? © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
24 Hour Museum Editor Jon Pratty casts his critical eye over this year's Turner Prize nominees and even makes a prediction for the winner...
Four artists are fighting it out for the 2006 Turner Prize. Two on the shortlist, Tomma Abts and Rebecca Warren apparently work in traditional ways, with paint and clay.
The other two, Mark Titchner and Phil Collins, are right on the edge of the possible and the accepted, both by the art establishment and by audiences. But do all of these artists deceive?
Make your own mind up - work by the short listed artists is on show in the Turner Prize exhibition, on now at Tate Britain until January 14 2007. The big decision on the winner of the £25,000 main prize will be announced live on Channel 4 on December 4.
Tomma Abts, Teete, 2003, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
German-born Tomma Abts makes intense densely-worked paintings that are always 48 X 38 cm. She insists the paintings hang together in precisely worked out relationships – it’s work that is more of an installation than an exhibition of paintings in the traditional sense.
So Abts, while on the face of it another abstract painter, is constructing quite new layers of meaning about the way paintings are made, and how they hang in relation to each other. Her works grow very slowly out of blank canvases, developing and materialising out of some unseen clues in the canvas, the pigment and the space around the picture.
Abts' paintings always carefully relate to each other in the exhibition space © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
The paintings themselves don’t repay much study at first – they’re precise, hard-edged, closely-toned images with a distinctive palette.
They look like hard fought paintings, but unlike say, Auerbach (who also reworked paintings massively over long timescales) there’s a sense that Abts is obsessive about controlling the final pleasure the viewer gets from the picture. They were not, for me, particularly joyful or sensual works.
Rebecca Warren © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
Rebecca Warren takes a lot of inspiration from the traditional giants of art and sculpture – Degas, Rodin and Picasso to name but three. But Warren’s distorted and morphed figures only suggest for momentary glimpses the original inspiration – once you stand next to one of her messy, sensual and seemingly chaotic pieces, something weird happens.
Rebecca Warren © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
You start to sense echoes of Degas, of Rodin. These are not quotes, not replicas of moments discovered around the haunches of a Degas bronze, but cartoonish explosions of impressionistic, plastic delight. There’s lots of humour here – and Warren admits to finding the provocative American humourist Robert Crumb interesting.
Degas’ Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1880-81) was a particular influence for Warren and it’s an eery feeling walking round these bronzes and clay originals and catching sudden glimpses of the distantly remembered Degas perennial.
Both these artists are clearly less conventional than they seem at first glance and Warren’s work in particular seemed to me to be loaded with multiple meanings, pleasures and possibilities.
Mark Titchner © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
In contrast, Mark Titchner’s extraordinary kinetic and conceptual constructions challenge not just your eyeballs and sense of cultural good taste, they actually challenge your perception of the truth.
Mark Titchner, Ergo Ergot, 2006. © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
At the Tate press launch we were told that Titchner “attempts to harness man’s psyche using ‘Psyonics’ and ‘Radionic boxes,’ which we are asked to believe are an early form of radio.
As someone with a more than a basic grounding in science theory, my antenna beeped an alert as curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas explained further, “What Titchner is doing is questioning belief systems. It’s about people having a different relationship with art.”
Mark Titchner, from How to Change Behaviour (Tiny Masters of the World Come Out) 2006, commissioned by Arnolfini, Bristol © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
Quite. So what we have here is not just really compelling sculptural assemblage and bold, exciting poster-like imagery: in addition Titchner is plugging into a long tradition of work, honourably explored in a mischievous way by legend/icon/liar Joseph Beuys.
What we see here may be true – if you choose to take your philosophy and theosophy uncritically from an artist. Otherwise you – like me – may find this colourful and rewarding work exciting, perplexing and worthy of time spent decoding myth from truth, lie from real insight.
Phil Collins, The return of the real / gercerin geri donusu, 2005. Colour video with sound, courtesy Kerlin Gallery, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
At the core of the Turner Prize 2006 show is a complex nest of realities. In a way, the work of Phil Collins shares common ground with the shifting truths and realities of Titchner.
They both subvert reality – Titchner by presenting us with seeming plausible statements and machines that are on thin ice in reality; Collins by presenting us with multimedia visions that on second viewing peel apart, like the layers of an onion skin, revealing more veneers of reality and unreality below.
So in one piece, from a Biennial in Turkey, Collins presents on two opposing screens the interviewer and the interviewed. The subject is a hapless individual who ended up revealing far more than he intended on a Big Brother style TV show. His interviewer is also seen on the other screen, and in the background Collins himself flits into view briefly, a Hitchcock-style presence, a sort of ghost in the mechanism of the piece.
Collins’ work often plays with these layers of presentation, reality, and disintegration of the picture and the subject. Truly revealing this way of working, his epic production at the centre of the Turner show consists of a real TV production suite. Real media workers are based here and they are making a show about people whose lives have been changed by their participation in a Big Brother style show.
Phil Collins, Shady Lane productions 2006. TV production and research company established at Tate Britain. © Jon Pratty / 24 Hour Museum
Of course, the irony here is that the production itself is the subject of the show. We are invited by Collins to witness the building of a cultural property and to see the complex layers of reality as they are actually constructed and applied to an art piece – in this case a real TV programme.
Many of us feel confronted by the mirror that Big Brother holds up to us as a society, and Collins is making his work about these facets of us that we often find repugnant.
This work positions itself bravely at the epicentre of our new digital cultural reality, asks questions about where the reality is, and in my opinion Collins deserves the Turner Prize for his bold, topical, ambitious and ingenious statement.
This year’s jury include Lynn Barber of the Observer, Margot Heller of the South London Gallery and Nicolas Serota, Director of Tate.