Britain’s Turner prize goes to transgender sculptor Jesse Darling

EASTERBOURNE, Britain – Jesse Darling, a sculptor who makes scrappy installations out of mangled objects, won the Turner Prize on Dec 5 at a ceremony at Towner Eastbourne art museum in southern England.

The prestigious annual British award seeks to encourage debate around new advances in contemporary art and is given to a visual artist based or born in Britain.

Berlin-based Darling, who identifies as transgender, is known for working with unconventional materials, including hazard tape, office files and net curtains.

He was nominated for his exhibitions No Medals No Ribbons and Enclosures.

Darling beat three other nominees, including Barbara Walker, who draws portraits of black subjects, sometimes directly onto gallery walls, and Ghislaine Leung, an installation artist whose work highlights the difficulty of balancing motherhood with an art career. Also nominated was Rory Pilgrim, a multimedia artist and musician.

Alex Farquharson, the director of the Tate Britain museum and the chair of the prize jury, said in an interview that Darling, 41, manipulated banal objects in ingenious ways to produce work evoking a society on the verge of collapse.

“It’s always so impressive when an artist, using commonplace items, creates something you’ve never seen before,” Farquharson said.

Darling, whose work also includes performance and digital elements, studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, and at Central Saint Martins and the Slade School of Fine Art, two respected London schools.

As well as making art, he told an interviewer in 2012, he had “done just about everything for money” including music journalism, sex work and stints as a chef.

He began gaining prominence in Britain in his 30s, exhibiting at the 2019 Venice Biennale and at the Tate Britain in London.

Several leading British art critics said that Darling should win the award after seeing his exhibition at Towner Eastbourne, where Darling’s contribution includes metal crowd barriers bent so they resemble animals crawling across the gallery floor or urinating against the walls.

The art museum is hosting an exhibition of works by all four artists nominated for the Turner Prize through April 14.

Alastair Sooke, writing in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, said Darling’s work was “the most exhilarating” he had seen nominated for the Turner Prize in many years. Darling’s art “boils and bubbles with brilliant ideas and touches”, Sooke added.

Founded in 1984, the Turner Prize is one of the international art world’s major prizes. Many past winners, including Steve McQueen, Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst, have gone on to become stars.

Yet in recent years, the Turner Prize has been disparaged for focusing on artists whose work had more to do with political activism than aesthetics.

The 2022 award was widely seen as a return to form. It went to Veronica Ryan, a sculptor whose work has been shown at the Whitney Biennial.

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