BY Dan Fox in What Does Mark Wallinger’s Victory of the Turner Prize 2007 Tell Us About British Contemporary Art | 06 DEC 07

What Does Mark Wallinger’s Victory of the Turner Prize 2007 Tell Us About British Contemporary Art

Twelve years on from Hirst’s vitrines, Wallinger’s work holds more cultural currency

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BY Dan Fox in What Does Mark Wallinger’s Victory of the Turner Prize 2007 Tell Us About British Contemporary Art | 06 DEC 07

Mark Wallinger, Sleeper, 2005, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist
 As has been widely reported across the UK press, the Tate awarded its annual £25,000 Turner Prize at a ceremony in Liverpool on Monday. From a shortlist of four artists – Zarina Bhimji, Nathan Coley, Mike Nelson and Mark Wallinger – the jury selected Wallinger as the 23rd recipient of the prize, awarded for the best exhibition by a British or UK-based artist in the 12 months preceding the May nominations. Wallinger was nominated on the basis of State Britain (2007), shown at Tate Britain earlier this year – a painstakingly fabricated replica of peace campaigner Brian Haw’s wall of banners and placards which stood outside the Houses of Parliament, London in protest against the Iraq War – yet he will undoubtedly be remembered in the British popular imagination as ‘the one dressed in a bear suit’, a reference to the work exhibited in the Turner Prize show at Tate Liverpool entitled Sleeper (2005); a video depicting Wallinger roaming the deserted Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin at night in full bear costume. As with fellow nominee Mike Nelson, this year was the second time Wallinger had been shortlisted. It’s interesting to note that he was first put forward in 1995; the year Damien Hirst took the award for his iconic ‘spot’ paintings and vitrine sculpture Mother and Child Divided (1993). The mood of British culture was significantly different that year to the way it is in 2007: 1995 was the year Tony Blair’s New Labour was in the ascendant and a stultified, scandal-wracked Conservative party were on the way out; the year Britpop blared from radios, rock stars drank champagne at 10 Downing Street and the glossy magazines were full of glamorous Young British Artists behaving badly at the vanguard of Cool Britannia. Twelve years on, and New Labour warhorse Gordon Brown is now Prime Minister, leading his bruised and battered party through the fallout of the Iraq War and other overseas adventures. The country frets about climate change, possible recession, ‘the war on terror’ and racial and religious prejudice. Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse now fill the airwaves, yet seem less avatars of good time sunny pop and soul than the soundtrack to a nation gritting teeth and hoping for the best. Damien and Tracey – still held in much of the UK mainstream media as being representative of all contemporary art – seem like survivors of another era. In light of such change, it could be argued that Wallinger’s work has much more cultural currency in this decade than Hirst’s. What does awarding the Turner Prize for such an explicitly political piece of work as State Britain say about what we want from contemporary art in the UK today?

Dan Fox is a writer who lives in New York, USA. His latest book is Limbo (2018).

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