A "Barometer" for British Art, the 2011 Turner Prize Exhibition Brings the Spotlight to Newcastle

The Frieze Art Fair is over. Time for the Turner Prize! This Friday the exhibition of the 2011 nominees — Karla Black, George Shaw, Hilary Lloyd, and Martin Boyce — will open at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, Newcastle, where the winner of the £25,000 ($39,161) award will be announced on December 5.

"The Turner Prize has really become a kind of barometer of current thinking, current taste and current trends," said Baltic curator Laurence Sillars, who ducked out of the installation to talk to ARTINFO UK.For the show, "artists are encouraged to present a body of works that is indicative of the work for which they were nominated," he explained. "But all of them have produced new pieces for the exhibition." We can therefore expect new ethereal pastel sculptures by Black, hyperrealist paintings of council estates by Shaw, semi-abstract video installations by Lloyd, and modernist, design-y constructions by Boyce.

Or can we? Sillars notes that the Turner can be "a real career-changing opportunity," and this year's bunch might have taken thechance to experiment within the prize show itself. But it's likely that they'll stick to what they're known for: the stakes are too high. "When they are nominated, artists are immediately given a kind of gravitas," said the Baltic curator. Being nominated is the equivalent of being knighted bythe art aristocracy. Even if they don't win, artists will have their names preceded by "Turner Prize nominee" for ever after.

This is the first time that the Turner Prize exhibition is taking place outside of the Tate's confines, and only the second time it is being shown outside London. The move signifies a desire to balance out the British art world's London-centricity. "It also reflects the increasing geographicaldiversity of art production in Britain," said Sillars. "Glasgow is sucha center for artists these days." Indeed, the city produced two of this year's nominees, Black and Boyce.

"The unique thing about the Turner Prize is that it never fails to raisea national debate about contemporary British art," continued Sillars. "So as this debate is happening around the country, it seems vital to bring its heart, its locus, its source, to different parts of the country. It's a very exciting opportunity that Baltic has been chosen asthe first venue beyond Tate to present it." But Baltic is still a relatively easy three-hour train journey from the capital, unlike, say, Tramwayin Glasgow, which could also have made a suitable venue — recognizing the Scottish city's status as the U.K.'s second art capital. Perhaps next time.

So, does Sillars have a favorite among this year's contenders, someone he believes should win? "It's impossible," he answers. "It's certainly a task of the jury that I'm notenvious of. How do you compare a painting to a sculpture or an installation next to a video installation?" I was about to ask that question myself."It's one of the peculiarities of the Turner Prize," said Sillars. "I'm just excited that it's such a rich exhibition, but I'm glad I don't have the challengeof deciding a winner."