Sculptor Helen Marten on Monday won the Turner Prize, at a London ceremony where the art world rallied against xenophobia and intolerance.
The prize is awarded to a British artist under 50 for an outstanding exhibition, and has become synonymous with controversy in its 32-year history with previous winners including contemporary art agents provocateurs Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
Marten, 31, impressed the judges with her sculptures from unusual materials such as fish skin and snooker chalk, described by the jury as “an exceptional contribution to the continuing development of contemporary visual art”.
“They admire the work’s poetic and enigmatic qualities which reflect the complexities and challenges of being in the world today,” said Tate Britain, the gallery which hosts the contemporary art prize.
The London-based artist beat three other finalists to clinch the £25,000 ($32,000, 30,000 euros) prize, while those shortlisted will all receive £5,000.
Of the other finalists — Michael Dean, Josephine Pryde and Anthea Hamilton — it was the latter’s sculpture of a male backside and a series of metallic chastity belts suspended from the ceiling which gained most attention in recent weeks.
Marten, from Macclesfield in north-west England, builds on the success of winning the Hepworth Prize for Sculpture last month which carried a £30,000 prize.
Britain’s Culture minister Matt Hancock celebrated the artist’s win on Twitter: “Huge congrats to Helen Marten on winning this year’s #TurnerPrize – well done @Tate for a wonderful exhibition.”
The Guardian newspaper praised Marten as a worthy winner and “an artist who thinks differently from the rest of us”.
“Like flow charts and route maps, the pleasure of Marten’s sculptural arrangements is in going from one part to another, to be arrested and to set off again,” the newspaper said.
An ‘ever more precarious’ world
The turmoil of 2016 — including Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as US president — weighed heavily over the ceremony at the London gallery.
Receiving the award, Marten described the global outlook as “ever more precarious” and spoke out against xenophobia and the white nationalist “alt-right” movement which has come to the fore in the US.
“I think as artists today and as people in this environment we are deeply, deeply privileged to be sitting here with a community that’s life blood is its diversity and exuberance,” she said.
Marten’s comments followed those of poet Ben Okri, who announced the winner and praised art as “the biggest country in the world… it keeps no-one out and excludes no-one”.
“Now that the boundaries are narrowing and hearts are hardening… I feel we need art now more than ever,” he said.
The contemporary art prize, which is named after the great English painter JMW Turner, has been awarded annually since 1984. — AFP