The Turner Prize Awarded to a Collective Who Ask: 'Is This Art?'
London-based collective Assemble win Britain’s leading contemporary art award, the Turner Prize, on Monday for a regeneration scheme in Liverpool, northwest England.
Set up 31 years ago by London’s Tate gallery in London, the prize often draws upon the single cultural polemic: “Is this art?”—and this year was no exception.
Assemble, a team of 18 artists, architects and designers, follows in a long tradition of controversial prize-givings, including Chris Ofili’s collection of mixed-media canvases with elephants’ dung attached in 1988 and Martin Creed’s 2001 installation of an empty room with its lighting periodically going on and off.
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What makes Assemble different from previous winners is that its work is about the practical application of art, to make a tangible difference to a wider society. Formed in 2010, the team welcomed the £25,000 prize for their work, alongside local residents, overhauling 10 derelict, terraced houses in an area called Granby Four Streets, situated in inner-city Toxteth.
The group are the first non-artists and first collective to win the prize. With their ages ranging from 26 to 29, they are also the youngest to ever win the prize, which is presented to a British artist under the age of 50.
But, not everyone was elated by Monday’s news. Speaking after the ceremony, held in Glasgow and broadcast live on Channel 4, Scottish author and broadcaster, Muriel Gray, said: “I think it’s changed the nature of the Turner Prize because I don’t think it is modern art,” theBBC reports. “I think it’s socially responsible, beautiful architecture. But it’s a very peculiar year.”
Prior to the announcement, Mark Hudson, art critic for The Daily Telegraph , told the BBC on Friday that he didn’t see Assemble’s work as art. “Why bring it in as art? If you’re just looking for stuff that isn’t pretentious and is useful, why don’t you nominate B&Q or Oxfam?”
The group, who “actively” involve the public as both participant and collaborator in its projects, acknowledge that they were shocked by the news. During the acceptance speech, Assemble member Joseph Halligan said: “I think it's safe to say this nomination was a surprise to all of us and the last six months have been a super-surreal experience.”
Assemble beat three others to win the prize. London-based artist Bonnie Camplin was nominated for creating a study room, titled The Military Industrial Complex, where participants are asked to draw from theory books, such as philosophy and psychology. Canadian-born Janice Kerbel created a piece of music for six singers, entitled DOUG; based on a performative character who experiences mishaps and unfortunate situations and Nicole Wermers was nominated for an installation that explored the gender politics of modern design.