Tate Britain’s Turner Prize exhibition encompasses an enthralling and simultaneously puzzling display of some of the freshest contemporary art of the present day. The predominantly sculpture-based artworks by four shortlisted artists (Michael Dean, Anthea Hamilton, Helen Marten and Josephine Pryde), despite being very different in content, engage the viewer by sharing common themes such as advertisement in the media and the effect of time.
The complexity of Helen Marten’s work, involving an unusual combination of objects, from fish bones and snakeskin to shoe soles and the sewn bottom half of a doll, is enhanced by the contrasting simplicity of the white walls, which don’t distract or detract from the intricate details. The angled wall separating her three main pieces effectively leads the viewer between installations. However, they are integrated through a small hole in the wall, which allows part of the work to be seen on the other side. By arranging sections of objects together, familiar objects lose their familiarity, taking on a mosaic-like quality and becoming almost abstract. Her work acts as a means for reflection, allowing the viewer to slow down and think about the visual information that they are being exposed to – perhaps resembling the media and advertisement that people subconsciously take in. Marten invites the viewer to pause and focus on the visual riddles, spending time to unpick the work.
The contrasting work of Anthea Hamilton in the adjoining room is a reminder of the variety of styles of work shortlisted for this year’s Turner Prize. She uses striking crimson brick wallpaper behind a brick-patterned suit jacket and pair of trousers, and blue cloud-filled sky mural for a backdrop. Combining organic and inorganic forms, such as through lichen-covered boots, Hamilton explores the significance of time, which is apparent in her work through the slow growth of lichen. Hamilton’s 18ft tall polyurethane buttocks is certainly a memorable part of the exhibition, being frequently mentioned by the press and adding humour to the exhibition. The large-scale piece, painted with help from Madame Tussauds, used a design never made by Gaetano Pesce for a New York apartment block. Again, the significance of time plays a part as after many years the piece has finally been remade. The limited information provided about some of Hamilton’s pieces encourages viewers to develop their own interpretations.
Josephine Pryde’s work seems somewhat underwhelming in comparison to the first two artists,’ but perhaps this is because it is less striking and shocking. The stationary train positioned in the centre of the room has been moving in previous exhibitions, allowing people to mount it to travel across the gallery and admire the surrounding photographs. Here, the sense of fun seems to be diminished. Eight panels of newly bought kitchen worktops have been exposed to sunlight for ‘Summer of 2016 (London, Athens, Berlin),’ acting as an unusual cameraless photography method, documenting a period of time. Other walls focus on photographs of hands holding personal objects, reminiscent of those in advertisements and fashion magazines. Although the room seems initially disjointed, it soon seems almost like a self-portrait, and small details piece together – even graffiti on the train includes the homonym ‘Pride.’
Finally, Michael Dean’s work stands out through its complexity – it is difficult to get pass many of them as they are closely packed together. Dean’s art, which uses the word ‘shore/shoring’ as a starting point, is similar to Marten’s in its attention to detail, from the clay fists cast from his children’s hands, to empty drug packets. By laying down white flooring to match the walls, the viewer isn’t distracted by anything other than the artwork. Dean uses his work to draw attention to the harsh truth of poverty, arranging a pile of £20,436 pennies to illustrate the poverty line for a family of four. By removing one penny, Dean pushes the family of four below the poverty line, and it is shocking how small the pile seems. The exposure to natural sunlight draws attention to the glistening bronze and copper reflections. Dean’s ‘family of four’ humanoid metal with holes for eyes emphasise the poverty concept, and various limb-like additions remind the viewer of Dean’s shoring starting point, involving a litter of washed up items.
The Turner Prize has been well executed, and the versatility of the artists’ work is impressive, combining interesting concepts and media such as painting, printing and word-based sculpture. Michael Dean’s work is most intriguing, and for that reason I believe that he should be the winner of the Turner Prize 2016. However, it could have been beneficial to include more pieces by the artists, as the display doesn’t necessarily give a full taste of the artwork produced by each artist. The winner of the Turner Prize will be announced on 5th December, broadcast on the BBC, and the exhibition runs at Tate Britain until 2nd January.