The Turner Prize is awarded annually to a practising British artist, and is worth £25000 to the winner. This year for the first time there's no upper age limit, and two over-50s are included on the shortlist of four. In alternate years the Turner Prize exhibition is held in a gallery outside London, and this year it's at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, the UK's City of Culture 2017. Entrance is free (which isn't generally the case when it's in London).
The Ferens Art Gallery was opened in 1927. It's named after (and was paid for) by Hull businessman Thomas Ferens, whose company Reckitt & Sons made its money manufacturing household products including Brasso, Windolene, Dettol and Reckitt's Blue. The building is a mostly one-storey affair, in classical style, and owns an acclaimed provincial art collection. The Ferens was recently closed for two years to enable a £5m makeover in readiness for its TurnerPrizepresentation. It's a cracking gallery.
Lubaina is the oldest of this year's finalists, hence the centrepiece of her display was created back in the 1980s, an angry Hogarthian collection of lifesize cutouts depicting Thatcherite London. I much preferred her 100-piece Lancaster Dinner Service, a recontextualised crockery set overpainted with characters from the British slave trade, including obese red-coated gentleman on willow pattern and nobler black profiles on a tureen. This jolted my uneasy Empire sensibilities - her censored collage of Guardian news and sports pages somewhat less so.
The volunteers in attendance, in their blue City of Culture jackets, make a refreshing change to the unresponsive attendants usually found in galleries. These Hull citizens are keen to nip in and engage, to say hello or to ask a little more, with a smile and without being overly intrusive. It's almost like they can't believe a quartet of nationally-important works has ended up in their backyard, and their enthusiasm is infectious.
Hurvin paints, simply paints, which in the repertoire of the Turner Prize verges on an original choice of medium. His canvases are big and bright and frequently reflect his family's Caribbean background, as for example with a parrot outshining the canopy of a tropical tree. A recurring motif in his works is the barber's chair, often empty or with its inhabitant anonymously facing the other way.
The volunteer who strode up to me in this room had a fairly firm opinion that Hurvin should win the Turner. This is the one our visitors seem to like best, he said (those visitors on yesterday's evidence being mostly the retired of the East Riding and beyond). A lot of the other rooms contain more experimental stuff whereas this is proper painting - I'm paraphrasing what he said, but I suspect most of those he strides up to agree.
German-born Andrea works in a variety of media, and her woodcuts are prominently positioned in this year's Turner display. A row of eight, in stark black and white, depict what look like hastily-drawn handbags with arms outstretched, but which take on a deeper meaning when the title of the work reveals them to be beggars. A separate scrapeboard-style work entitled Duck and Daisy (more duck than daisy) exhibits a somewhat cartoonish take. More involving are Andrea's photoboards illuminating the words of Simone Weil, a French philosopher whose descriptions of the rise of 30s fascism plainly resonate today.
I don't know if you've spotted it, said the lovely lady overseeing this room, but there's a spelling mistake over there. Her intervention inspired me to read every word on the Simone Weil boards, but I still missed the glaring error even though it was in a title. Did you see it, asked the attendant half an hour later, now patrolling in a different room - Uprootedness spelt with only one 'o'? Maybe this was art, but more likely transcriptional carelessness, and if Andrea wins the £25000 I may wince.
Last year's Turner winner was a filmmaker, and Rosalind is screening two. The first is Electrical Gaza, an eye-opening documentary showing daily life inside this hard-to-enter enclave. We see mostly men and boys, singing, selling fish, lounging in alleyways, washing horses in the sea or crowding at the border gate, the action occasionally slipping into animation. In Vivians Garden a mother and daughter in Guatemala do nothing much but chat, pick clothes and create their own art, in an unfamiliar but disjoint slice of life. Both films are illuminating, especially to an international audience, but perhaps too National Geographic to be worthy of a win.
A pair of grey-haired blue-jacketed ushers waited on duty outside each temporary screen. You know there are two cinemas, this one's 20 minutes and the other's 30, mind the curtains, there are seats on the left-hand side. Neither of the pairings knew whether they were the first to greet you or the second. You know there are two cinemas, this one's 30 minutes and the other's 20, mind the curtains, there are vacant seats up at the back. London's art crowd should to head to the provinces more often, it's a lot friendlier out here.
The winning artist will be announced on 5th December. It'll be Hurvin or Lubaina (unless it isn't).