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Turner Prize 2012

Critics' choice
© Spartacus Chetwynd, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
Spartacus Chetwynd, Odd Man Out Performance, 2011

If we must enter into the combative spirit of the Turner Prize, as we have done every year since 1984 (apart from 1990 when everyone was too busy actually fighting about the thing to put on an award), then Paul Noble should be a shoo-in for the giant £25k cheque. His epic drawing project, 'Nobson Newtown', would be worthy of any lifetime achievement award and has been going at least half as long as this annual gong. It's high time, as Noble has finally completed his series of exhaustively detailed pencil plans for a fictional world constructed around single words or names, which themselves are also buildings and, maybe, states of minds.

Take an early one, 'Paul's Palace' (1996), which shows Noble's dream home, designed to include a skateboard park, an inviting easel and numerous Le Corbusier-like bedrooms with ocean views. Only it's all too empty, like everything else in this god-forsaken town and the surrounding landscape, which is littered with monuments to disappointment and tumbleweed-strewn plazas, dedicated to nobodies called Trev or Joe. But, 'Nobson Newtown' is also as puerile as the place name sounds, populated only by turds and knob gags. So perhaps Noble is not meant for such official, establishmentarian endorsement after all.

If we're going by maturity, then Elizabeth Price is only a few years younger than Noble, who is himself just one shy of being ineligible for the Turner Prize (it's open only to artists under 50). Price has not had anything like the same run-up as Noble, however, having only relatively recently emerged as a filmmaker of considerable power and panache. Although we've seen her Turner Prize-nominated video, 'The Woolworths Choir of 1979' before (reviewed here), its staccato, syncopated rhythm and subliminal text messaging makes her a serious contender.

There's long been a criticism that Turner Prizers nowadays are not of the ilk or stature of the artists first shortlisted - Howard Hodgkin, Gilbert & George and Richard Long were all early winners - and I like to think of many of the current crop as 'Inbetweeners': artists who are on the cusp of major museum shows and commercial success, but who remain largely unproven.

Spartacus Chetwynd is certainly not your average career-artist - a performer, prop-maker, storyteller, part-time nudist and Time Out cover star - but she's comfortable under pressure and in turning the tables on grand occasions like this. Here visitors are asked to interact with her wandering troupe of monstrous sea creatures and perhaps have their fortune told by the 'Oracle' (a bedraggled-looking Kermit puppet).

The least-grown up of the four artists is Scottish filmmaker Luke Fowler (born 1978) and yet his practice is eminently serious and settled. He creates pseudo-documentaries focusing on single public figures (not unlike fellow Glasgow-resident artist, Duncan Campbell) and has just completed a fascinating trilogy of films on controversial psychologist RD Laing. Again, Fowler's decade or so spent in the service of one idea or philosophy seems entirely admirable and appropriate for the Turner Prize, so maybe he's actually the mature one in the bunch and most deserving of the accolade. But, you'll have to ask the Oracle if he's going to win (it's announced at Tate Britain on December 3 by Jude Law).

Event website: http://www.tate.org.uk

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