Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 14:38 UK

A first taste of Turner Prize art

By Michael Osborn
Arts reporter, BBC News

Michael Osborn and one of Enrico David's pieces
Michael Osborn goes head-to-head with one of Enrico David's artworks at the Turner Prize exhibition

A filthy, unmade bed. A shark pickled in formaldehyde. Some lights going on and off.

These are just a few of the past Turner Prize hopefuls which have prompted screaming tabloid headlines and public derision alike.

The time for the latest exhibition of contemporary artists' work vying for the prestigious £25,000 prize has arrived again at Tate Britain.

As someone who has heard all the opinions but never actually seen one of the shows, now was the time to visit the gallery with wide, child-like eyes and a fresh perspective.

The four artists' works are displayed in a collection of bright, airy installation rooms. The first impression when initially whisked through the exhibits is that there is a lot of space and not much to fill it.

Draft excluder

But the few items that sit in the gallery are interesting, sometimes bizarre and provocative - no change there, then.

Lucy Skaer has crafted some beautifully fragile "skittles" out of compressed coal dust - so captivating that I don't notice the whale skull partially hidden behind a screen.

But the next room, dedicated to Enrico David, is the stuff of nightmares.

Richard Wright's Turner Prize exhibit

The faces of gay porn stars are plastered onto giant egg men with the feet of rocking chairs. And there is a vast draft excluder with limp limbs slumped on a platform.

Next comes Roger Hiorns' effort, which is initially a let-down after David's in-your-face surreal onslaught.

It's a shallow pile of grey dust and prompts one of those moments when you wonder what the point of the Turner Prize is.

But when you realise that it's the remains of an aircraft - and such a huge vehicle can turn to dust - you stop and stare.

I had an itching desire to tramp through the dust and swish it around like a pile of autumn leaves, but that soon passed.

Hiorns - the bookmakers' favourite to win - has also made some intriguing abstracts which also have a hidden twist. One has pieces of bovine brain placed into neat lattices. They look no more offensive than slices of pale malt loaf. The other two plastic sculptures are injected with powdered brain.

His macabre cleverness puts the work of Richard Wright to shame - a vast open space with a pretty gold wallpaper-like print on one wall, which will be painted over when the exhibition comes to an end.

Hurting brain

This former Turner exhibition virgin has been given plenty to contemplate, but why should others consider shelling out the princely sum of £8?

Assistant curator Helen Little says: "This year there are a lot of beautiful objects in the show, and a lot of surprising and thoughtful elements.

Roger Hiorn's atomised plane
I think there is always something for everybody. People will enjoy it
Helen Little, Assistant Curator

"I think there is always something for everybody and somebody will always take something away with them from one of these exhibitions. I think people will enjoy it."

Next came the tricky part - trying to decipher the meanings of these works. I was helped by the curatorial staff and the blurb on the walls, but after an hour of working through the "condition of instability" and "slowing down comprehension", my brain was hurting.

After an hour or so of looking and musing, it was time to leave.

To those who say the art of the Turner Prize is rubbish, they are mistaken. The objects in this year's show are handcrafted, and some of them are thought-provoking and quite beautiful.

As exhibitions go, it's stark - and some would say you won't get a lot of art for your buck.

But to see what all the fuss is about for yourself is worth changing a habit of a lifetime for.

The Turner Prize exhibition takes place at London's Tate Britain from 6 October to 3 January 2010. The winner will be announced on 7 December.

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