Artes Mundi 6 opts for social engagement not sensation at National Museum Cardiff

By Mark Sheerin | 12 September 2014

Exhibition: Artes Mundi 6 Exhibition and Prize,  National Museum Cardiff, Chapter, ffotogallery, all venues Cardiff, October 24 2014 - February 22 2015

Colour photo of a monumental neon sign reading Enjoy Poverty
Renzo Martens, Episode 3 (Still), 2008© Courtesy the artist and Galerie Fons Welters
One prize celebrates “new developments”, the other claims to engage with “the human condition, social reality and lived experience”. But the contrasting media profiles of the Turner and Artes Mundi suggest that humanity, reality and experience no longer carry all that much weight.

Not even a prize fund of £40,000, a match for the total to be won in the Turner, has garnered that much attention beyond the art world. It seems that in the struggle between worthiness and sensation, the latter is much better at generating headlines.

Never mind that Artes Mundi boasts an international shortlist, or that biannual status gives it rarity value. It has never been and probably will never be a glitzy circus of outrage and intrigue in the same way as the Daily Mail’s least-favourite art event.

Perhaps it doesn’t help that the Artes Mundi exhibition and prize are held in Cardiff. It doesn’t help that, as a look at this year’s shortlist confirms, socio-economic disparity, social responsibility and the politics of power are all on the menu.

That shortlist in full includes Carlos Bunga, Omer Fast, Theaster Gates, Sanja Iveković, Ragnar Kjartansson, Sharon Lockhart, Renata Lucas and Renzo Martens. Plus, representing the UK, Karen Mirza and Brad Butler - you won’t find two more engaged artists on these shores.

Given nine shortlisted artists or art partnerships, Artes Mundi has this year grown too big for its base at National Museum Cardiff. In 2014, locals and visitors will find the biannual exhibition takes place at Chapter Arts Centre and ffotogallery.

Not content with being a prize and an exhibition, Artes Mundi 6 has become something of a festival. If it remains in the shadow of the Turner for much longer, it will be a real injustice.

  • Open 10am-5pm (National Museum), closed Monday. Admission free. Read more about the shortlisted artists at

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