Photo: Ruth Clarke Photography/PA/Newscom
The four-artist short list for the Turner Prize was announced this week, and much to the surprise of observers, three of the candidates are women. Scottish sculptor Cathy Wilkes was selected for her female mannequins arranged in various poses, one of them perched on a toilet with leftover bits of dried porridge in a bowl at her feet. Among Runa Islam’s nominated works is a gorgeous film of a woman in a prim white dress perusing a gallery of white ceramics before she delicately smashes them to pieces. Goshka Macuga’s Haus der Frau 2 is a neat, geometrical concoction of glass, steel, and fabric, evoking, well, an artist’s bathroom. And Brit Mark Leckey was selected for several poppy multimedia works, including videos that pay homage to Felix the Cat and Marge Simpson.
Women artists are not total strangers to Turner history — in 1997, not a single male artist was short-listed. Only three female artists, however, have received the award in 24 years. While there’s a hint of sexism in the commentary on this year’s short list — Jonathan Jones of The Guardian cast his vote for Leckey and bemoaned the absence of several other male artists he believes have done more significant work this year — fans of this year’s selections, including New York’s own Jerry Saltz, are impressed with a breakaway from a certain insistence on shock. “It’s a list that clearly wants to put distance between itself and the Young British Artists generation,” Saltz says. “Each of the artists works in a semi-understated conceptual way.” It’s refreshing that women are dominating the competition in a year when the Turner appears to be taking a turn away from showiness and toward more obvious substance — reflected in the lack of menstrual blood and other in-your-face bodily materials in the work of this year’s Turner women, tricks often overused in feminist art until now, baiting macho cries of blatant gender motivation.
The odds, of course, are on the lone male to win — the online bookmaker Ladbrokes has 5:6 odds on Lecky, compared with 11:4 for Wilkes. But who should win? We cast our vote for Wilkes, whose sculptural installations have the elegance of a Vanessa Beecroft performance and are as whimsically happy-making as a Jeff Koons puppy. These pretty mannequins, as mundane in their domestic surroundings as they are surprising, are determinedly feminist without insisting on it — perfect for this year’s Turner. —Emma Pearse
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