The Turner Prize, the U.K.’s top visual-arts award, last night went to Elizabeth Price, whose films splice together footage of such unrelated topics as 1960s girl bands and a fire in a furniture stockroom.
Price, the surprise winner, defeated Spartacus Chetwynd, a nudist performance artist who uses puppets, costumes and props to stage playful rituals. She also beat Paul Noble, whose meticulous pencil drawings are dotted with letters of the alphabet and with excrement.
The winner, a 46-year-old blonde wearing black chiffon, collected her prize from actor Jude Law in a televised ceremony. They each made a scathing attack on U.K. government plans to switch to the new English Baccalaureate qualification, or EBacc, which doesn’t include the arts in its curriculum.
Law said the U.K. was living through a moment when “fewer and fewer schools will provide learning opportunities in the arts, thanks to an act of government cultural vandalism.”
Price recounted her own childhood at a state-funded comprehensive school in Luton, north of London. She said it was unbearable that others should be denied the chance.
“The idea of young people not making art is a really, incredibly depressing idea,” she said. “We’ll end up with an art that only speaks about a very narrow area of experience.”
Chetwynd, who once inhabited a nudist colony and was the most eccentric of the four contestants, learned of her defeat sitting on a black leather sofa near the podium. She was flanked by her performers, who wore plastic bags and face paint.
Chetwynd herself sported a fishnet top with a matching brassiere. She held her bewildered-looking newborn baby, who squealed when his mom’s name was read out from the shortlist.
The fourth and final contender was video artist Luke Fowler, who for the Tate Britain exhibition that accompanied the prize giving, showed a 93-minute movie on the life of the late Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing.
The jury said they “admired the seductive and immersive qualities of Price’s trilogy of video installations” and her merging of genres: “from archival footage and popular music videos to advertising strategies.”
The Turner Prize is given to “a British artist under 50 for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the 12 months preceding April 24, 2012.” The prize money is 25,000 pounds ($40,260) for the winner and 5,000 pounds each for the other three shortlisted.
This year’s jury, steered by Tate Britain Director Penelope Curtis, lost one of its five members when Michael Stanley, director of Modern Art Oxford, died last September. He was not replaced.
Picketing the awards ceremony, as they do every year, were a handful of masked artists known as the Stuckists, who favor figurative painting and excoriate the conceptual art that, they say, is championed by Tate.
“Elizabeth Price is a wannabe documentary maker who has a place on late night TV, when no one’s watching,” said the movement’s co-founder Charles Thomson in a release e-mailed before the winner announcement. He made equally disparaging remarks about the other three contestants.
Created in 1984 to recognize the U.K.’s up-and-coming contemporary artists, the Turner Prize often perplexes public and press. In 2001, it went to Martin Creed, whose body of work included a gallery light switch that went on and off at five-second intervals.
Other winners include Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry, and Mark Wallinger, who in 2007 won the prize for his recreation of a real-life Iraq war protest by Brian Haw in London’s Parliament Square.
Price was commissioned to do a video work for the Bloomberg SPACE in London's Finsbury Square this year. The work was shown from June to August and is now being considered by the Tate for its permanent collection.
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