A look at the Turner Prize's contenders this year

Two favourites, two outsiders


The Turner Prize will be awarded to one of four short-listed artists at a formal dinner at the Tate Gallery on 23 November. Lord Palumbo takes the place of Emma Freud as master of ceremonies and Channel 4, the sponsors of the prize worth £20,000, will provide live transmission of the occasion. A related exhibition featuring works by each of the prize finalists opens at the museum (3-28 November).

The four contenders are Hannah Collins, Vong Phaophanit, Sean Scully and Rachel Whiteread, who was nominated for the prize two years ago and is the fancied candidate on this occasion. Whether or not her gender is a genuine issue (the prize never having been awarded to a woman artist), it is believed that she has the vote of David Sylvester, the eminent art critic and the most influential member of this year's jury which includes Iwona Blazwick, former ICA curator, Declan McGonagle, director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and Carole Conrad of the Patrons of New Art, the Tate Gallery's senior support group which invented the prize ten years ago. Her claim will have been enhanced by the timely completion of her largest sculpture to date, a concrete cast of the interior of a demolished house in London's East End, which was unveiled just days before the Turner Prize exhibition opened. Leading abstract painter, Sean Scully is the only internationally established name to appear in this year's last. In the last fifteen years, he has created convincing series of abstract compositions and ranks as one of the great innovators in this field.

As Channel 4 ponders the renewal of its sponsorship for a further three-year period, there are fundamental issues which need to be examined. With cartoons in The Spectator and the mysterious K-Foundation parodying the event by offering a rival award of £40,000 to the worst of the four short-listed artists, it can be said that the Turner Prize has engaged the attention of a wider audience than usually attends to contemporary art. But at what cost? Has it enhanced the reputation of British art either in this country or abroad? Has it brought fortune to any of the prize winners? With the exception of last year's surprising choice of Grenville Davey, previous recipients have been given the prize at the peak of their international careers: Malcolm Morley (1984), Howard Hodgkin (1985), Gilbert & George (1986), Richard Deacon (1987), Tony Cragg (1988), Richard Long (1989) and Anish Kapoor (1991). But even in Davey's case, there is no evidence that the award of the prize has generated new sales of his work. The case that artists and their work can be presented in a Booker Prize format has not yet been convincingly proven.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘The Turner Prize'