Oliver Basciano

The Turner Prize shortlist is an embarrassment

The jury seem to have no faith in art

Photo: Alessia Cargnelli

In 2019 I was asked to be on the jury for the Turner Prize. I was pretty happy about this. As an art critic, to be asked to judge one of the biggest art prizes feels like something of a professional endorsement. I even rang my mum to tell her. ‘But don’t tell anyone yet!’ I said over the phone. ‘It’s not been announced.’ A week or so later, home to see my parents, I walked into the village pub. One of my dad’s friends looked up from his pint and shouted: ‘I heard you’re judging the Turner Prize!’ Mum isn’t known for discretion. The rest of the evening was spent with various locals asking if I was going to give the award to ‘a pile of bricks’ or ‘an unmade bed’. Steve, who lives on my parents’ street, offered his empty packet of nuts by way of art.

The shortlist my fellow jurors and I put forward that year consisted of four video artists. The show at Tate Britain got good reviews. Charlotte Prodger, an artist who makes profoundly beautiful films about the landscape and identity, was the eventual £25,000 winner.

I recall all this, three years later, by way of a mea culpa however. Also nominated was Forensic Architecture, a collective who deny being artists at all. They do, however, use the tools of art — video, drawing, sculpture — to document human rights abuses. Their work, which has been exhibited around the world, is rooted in aesthetics even if it has a deeply political, activist intent. Yet their nomination, and that of Assemble in 2015, an architecture practice, may have paved the way for the embarrassment of this year’s shortlist.

Five-strong (no explanation as to why the list has been expanded from the usual four), it exclusively features collectives, all of whom are engaged in social work of one kind or another.

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