The Turner Prize was established in 1984 by the Tate and the Patrons of New Art to broaden visibility for art in the UK.
It is an annual prize, awarded to a British artist who has presented an outstanding exhibition or project anywhere in the world in the previous year.
Up until 2008 the Turner Prize exhibition was held at Tate Britain, but has since travelled to venues outside of London. This year, as part of the UK City of Culture, the Prize comes to Hull’s Ferens Art Gallery.
The exhibition opened in September, and we headed to Ferens to meet Turner Prize 2017 curators Sacha Craddock and George Vasey. In this series of short films, George and Sacha tell us about the exhibitions presented by the four shortlisted artists for this year’s prize. You can read a fuller version of their commentary on each artist’s work below.
Sacha Craddock on Hurvin Anderson
In the main gallery, we have put Hurvin Anderson's paintings. This exhibition is very exciting because it has two very recent paintings by Anderson, which he made in the studio since his Turner Prize nomination.
He refers to images of places visited, photographs he has taken, and places he knows that feel familiar, but also to places he doesn't know, and brings them together to create a new sense of place. He works a lot with landscape and brings together a kind of hybrid of landscape imagery.
Hurvin is from Birmingham, and his parents are from Jamaica. His work has a sense of trying to understand where he is from. Two of the paintings in the exhibition, Ascension and Greensleeves are almost impressionistic. He leaves whole areas out, layering images and drawings to locate points, using a kind of grid to bring in all of these different identities. One is an image from a trip to Jamaica of boys taking mangoes from a tree, which reminded him of his brother scrumping for apples in Birmingham, which also links up with the trees he sees every day around the corner from his studio in South London. All these come together to create this other place.
The other series in the exhibition is the ‘Barbershop’ series. There is a solitary figure in two of the paintings having their hair done under a towel. Often, the interior of the barbershop is void of detail until you get something apparently abstract, almost like Mondrian, creating a very illusory space. So he's dealing with space in a very particular way.
Hurvin Anderson is a very successful artist, but often, the interpretation of his work has been perhaps a little bit on the simple side. He is the kind of painter who has a fear of such simplistic notions of comprehension or understanding of his work. Painting for him is a questioning process.
He did say, "I paint to look, and the more I see, the less I know." That sounds romantic but it's absolutely true, and is very much to do with painting and what painting can or can't do. It’s refuting that idea of subject in an obvious way.
George Vasey on Andrea Büttner
Andrea Büttner was born in Stuttgart and lives between London and Berlin. She works across woodblock printing and etching, but her practice is quite broad and is very research-based. She did a PhD at the Royal College of Art on ideas around shame and poverty, so these ideas run through much of the work in her Turner Prize presentation.
In the exhibition, you encounter a wall clothed in bright yellow ‘high-vis’ fabric, exactly the same material that you find in security guards' uniforms. It represents the type of labour that protects and maintains public spaces, and the sort of people who – although they're wearing this highly visible material – become almost invisible because of their ubiquity. This issue of taking something that is undervalued, and trying to give it gravitas and focus our attention onto it, runs through much of her work.
For the Phone Etching series, Andrea has translated the smudges made on a phone screen by a thumb navigating a website, and blew them up into photo etchings. She thinks of these as amateur paintings. For me, they're very beautiful they're all exactly the same because they're completely mechanized. In a way, they're all great, and they're all bad. I think it makes reference to artists like Andy Warhol, and of the idea of levelling values, but also to mid-20th century lyrical abstract painting and trying to bring a new kind of language to that.
Andrea has made a series of woodblock prints called Beggars. I see these beggar prints as partly about the unrepresented or undervalued that maybe we overlook or we don't appreciate within society. Also, from a theological position, they perhaps explore shame and the idea of someone asking for forgiveness; they're almost adopting a kind of praying position. Although her work looks diverse, it's conceptually consistent. It all deals with ideas around value, which is fundamentally a question about art. Art doesn't have a fixed value – what is beautiful to me isn't necessarily what is beautiful to you. It's a negotiation of value. The usual depiction of poverty in the UK on TV is often quite pejorative. Andrea’s prints bring a kind of gravity or elegance in trying to counter that depiction of the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society. So it's dealing with representation from different angles, I think.
Finally, Andrea’s presentation includes an exhibition called The Peace Library that we've loaned from the Berlin Museum. The Peace Library was a charitable organisation set up as a protest group in the early 1980s during the German Democratic Republic. The group made exhibitions that travelled around community centres and libraries in Germany to advocate for pacifism and educate people on anti-war sentiments.
So, importantly, it's not Andrea's work. What she's doing is hosting it within her exhibitions, so that The Peace Library forms a conversation with her own work about ideas of socialism and pacifism. It's made in a very handicraft way with elastic bands and paper clips and buttons, so things that could just be found on the high street, and I think she's interested in the way it looks as much as what it says – she’s bringing something that comes from a slightly outside perspective into a fine art context. She's interested in both fine art design craft histories and exhibition display.