Last week Mark Leckey — the only male artist on the shortlist — won Britain’s Turner Prize. We didn’t know who he was — but that’s part of the point of the Turner Prize, to give airtime to artists we don’t already know — so we decided to find out what we could. In order of impressions: he speaks a bit like Russell Brand, he seems to think very very slowly, and this is either an elaborate and ground-breaking piece of performance art (possible) or a sign that his work is actually all over the place (likely).
To be fair, Leckey’s been getting slammed. The Telegraph reported two critics referring to his win as “an embarrassment” and “pretty ridiculous.” The subhead of the piece — “The Turner Prize, the award which once epitomized the best of British contemporary art, has gone to a work which features Felix the Cat, Homer Simpson and a Honda car commercial” — has that particular British faux-flat editorializing that we so love despite ourselves, and it does make us wonder about how that disparate list of references comes together to make art.
So we did a little noodling around, and from what we’ve seen, we’re not sold. We know, it’d be best if we saw it in person, if we were fully aware of his artistic biography, but the thing about events like the Turner Prize is that they do suddenly throw emerging artists into an immediate spotlight. And the question is always (besides if they deserve it) whether they’re prepared. A video on the Tate website has Leckey spinning around like Nell on a stool, talking very… slowly… about…. stuff. “Following Felix you will see a … rabbit,” he explains. “And… that rabbit is in… this flat.” It’s all about mirroring and repetition and seeing things in three dimensions that you thought maybe were only supposed to be in two, but we can’t look at it without thinking of someone like Beth Campbell, who does it so much more subtly, and whose trickery is in a sense so much more honest, down to the ground.
It seems like Leckey is trying to toe that line between “What? I just do this,” and intricate conceptualism. But where people like Martin Creed — who won the 2001 Turner for his installation “Lights Going on and Off,” which was difficult not to think of during Terence Koh’s single-light 2007 installation at the Whitney — nail it, Leckey’s work is just on the other side of too-elusive. It’s great that he won, and congratulations. But until he ties it all together, we’re going to be holding our Simpsons-loving breaths.