LONDON (Reuters) - Glasgow-born Susan Philipsz became the first sound artist to win Britain’s Turner Prize on Monday, justifying her position as bookmakers’ favourite for the annual award worth 25,000 pounds ($40,000) to the winner.
Victory for the 45-year-old, whose work centres around recordings of her voice singing folk songs in public spaces, is likely to rile traditionalists who have criticised the prize for being pretentious and out of touch with popular tastes.
Previous winners of the award, one of the art world’s most important, include Grayson Perry, a cross-dressing ceramicist, and Martin Creed, whose installation in 2001 featured lights going on and off in an empty room.
Philipsz, who is based in Berlin, was nominated for her works “Lowlands” at the International Festival of Visual Art in Glasgow and “Long Gone” at the Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo in Spain.
At the Tate Britain gallery in London, which administers the award, she recreated Lowlands for the annual Turner Prize exhibition, filling an empty gallery with recordings of her voice singing old Scottish laments.
Curator Katharine Stout described the work as “melancholic and poignant”, and encouraged the public to experience it for themselves.
“There is a difference between hearing about it and coming to the gallery to hear it,” she said earlier this year.
The Stuckists, a small but vocal group of artists which has sought to undermine the Tate and Turner Prize over the years, said the award should not go to a “singer”.
“It’s just someone singing in an empty room. It’s not art. It’s music,” they wrote in advance of the winner announcement.
Second-favourite Dexter Dalwood, 50, was nominated for his solo exhibition of paintings at Tate St. Ives, which drew on well-known moments from recent history.
In “Death of David Kelly”, for example, the image of a tree against a moonlit sky represents the suicide of the British weapons expert found dead in 2003.
Medical files released earlier this year suggested that Kelly slit his wrist after being named as the source of a BBC report that the British government had exaggerated the weapons of mass destruction case for going to war in Iraq.
In her display, Spanish-born nominee Angela de la Cruz, 45, questioned the definition of painting by taking her work into three dimensions through twisting and contorting the wooden frames to which her brightly coloured canvases are attached.
And London-based video artists The Otolith Group, comprising Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar, concentrated on reviving forgotten works of the past with an installation that included a 26-minute film inspired by a screenplay by Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray called “The Alien”, which was never made.
The Turner Prize is awarded to artists born in Britain who may be working abroad or artists based in the United Kingdom for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation. They must be aged under 50 — Dalwood was 49 when shortlisted.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato