If you hear feral bellowings on the cobbled streets of old Hull tonight, it probably won’t have anything to do with tonight’s victor. Everything has turned rather respectable these days.
As widely predicted, this year’s winner of the Turner Prize is Lubaini Himid, the 63-year-old Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. Let’s call it the specious triumph of age. All the supporters of the Turner now go to bed early.
This year, two of the four artists on the shortlist were over 50, and the youngest was 43. The reason for this is that the upper age limit has been lifted so that artists of any age are now eligible.
This used to be the case until 1991, when a ceiling of 50 was put in place. Why did it change then? Because the first few years had been such a mess.
No one really knew who or what it was for. After the change, there was a spate of good years, when the likes of Ofili, McQueen, Kapoor and other playful young(ish)sters made their mark. Now we are back to honouring the achievements of those who have already achieved quite a lot. So prepare for years of safety and dullness ahead.
It makes for a show of fairly good work, which lacks much risk and provide no evidence of the crazy, mad-cap antics of youth.
The individual exhibitions – each artist had his or her own room – resemble smooth and well calibrated mini-retrospectives. The artists were free to pick and choose from their back catalogues of greatest hits, if they felt like it.
These exhibitions needed to be well managed too because another rule had changed: the prize this year has in part been judged on the quality of this show, so raggedness had to be tidied away, which is a bit of a shame.
In fact, the staging in Hull at the newly refurbished Ferens is faultless in its way. Everything rhymes so well.
Everybody in Hull took the idea of the Turner very seriously indeed. The show even seemed to be at one with parts of the permanent collection. Who would ever have guessed that the Turner could aspire to respectability or yearn for a touch of easy continuity with art of the past? Perhaps that’s what begins to happen after you hit your 30th birthday (the Turner came into being in 1984).
The central piece of Himid’s show is a tableau of wooden cut outs she made in 1986, called The Fashionable Marriage. It purports to be fierce political satire – Thatcher smooches with Reagan – but it looks tired and dated.
In fact, it’s a shadowy remake of scenes from Hogarth’s Marriage A-la-Mode. Elsewhere, she paints on old issues of The Guardian to point out racial misrepresentation. Nothing really fizzes into life. She paints scenes from the history of slavery on a dinner service. You see what she is getting at, but it remains on the level of a good idea clumsily realised. Her victory does not augur well for the future of the prize.