It’s not unusual to find film and video work in the running for the Turner Prize, one of the most talked about annual awards in the art world. Steve McQueen, for example, who’d go on to direct 12 Years a Slave and Widows, won in 1999 for, among other works, Deadpan (1997), a restaging of the stunt Buster Keaton pulled off in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) in which the facade of a house collapses around him but leaves him miraculously unscathed. What is unusual, though, is for all four finalists for the Prize, awarded exclusively to British visual artists and named after painter J. M. W. Turner, to be up for their moving image work. That’s a first.
This year’s round is also the most political in the thirty-four-year history of the Prize, according to Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain, where an exhibition of the finalists’ work opens tomorrow. “The artists shortlisted for this year’s Turner Prize are tackling some of today’s most important issues, from queer identity, human-rights abuse, and police brutality, to post-colonial migration and the legacy of liberation movements,” says Farquharson. That won’t be to everyone’s liking. “What a miserable, tedious, poker-faced display the Turner is this year!” exclaims Michael Glover in the Independent. But Guardian art critic Adrian Searle calls the show “one of the best and most demanding in the exhibition’s history.”