Multidisciplinary Artist Jesse Darling Has Won the 2023 Turner Prize

Darling will pocket the top cash prize of $31,500.

Jesse Darling at Turner Prize 2023, Towner Eastbourne. Photo: Victor Frankowski, Hello Content.

The multidisciplinary Berlin-based artist Jesse Darling has won the 2023 Turner Prize, the U.K.’s most important prize for contemporary art. The announcement was made during an award ceremony at the Winter Palace in Eastbourne, a coastal town south of London, and broadcast on the BBC.

During his acceptance speech, Darling took the opportunity to remind the British public that, starting with Margaret Thatcher, successive governments have been removing arts education from the national curriculum, so bringing about greater elitism within the arts. “Don’t buy in!” he declared. “[Art] is for everyone!” Before leaving the stage, Darling waved a Palestinian flag.

On view at the Towner Eastbourne contemporary art museum, his darkly playful sculptural installation, replete with broken rollercoaster rails, red striped tape, lace doilies, and Union Jack flags made of tea towels, responded directly to Eastbourne and other classically British coastal towns that have been deprived in recent history. Describing a walk around the town, he recalled “closed shops, a lot of poverty, and a lot of old white people waiting to retire; you can see the effects of devastating austerity and class divisions.”

“You’ve got to love something to be able to critique it,” he concluded. “This is my country despite everything; it’s our country. I want better for it.”

Jesse Darling at Turner Prize 2023, installation view. Photo: Angus Mill, courtesy of Towner Eastbourne.

Darling has won a cash prize of £25,000 ($31,500), with the remaining shortlisted artists—Rory Pilgrim, Barbara Walker, and Ghislaine Leung—each receiving £10,000 ($12,600).

The five-person jury, chaired by Tate Britain’s director Alex Farquharson, included Martin Clark, director of Camden Art Centre; Melanie Keen, director of the Wellcome Collection; Helen Nisbet, artistic director of Cromwell Place and Art Night; and Cédric Fauq, chief curator of CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux.

The work of all four shortlisted artists has been on view since September (through April 14, 2024). Each installation had its own highly distinct tone with which to respond to the present moment.

Pilgrim’s RAFTS film offered a sentimental celebration of creativity and community during the pandemic years, a far cry from Darling’s wry skewering of post-Brexit Britain with its many coastal towns now in decades-long decline. Walker took sensitive portraits of Brits affected by the Windrush scandal and blew them up into an impressive mural, while Leung’s highly conceptual “scores,” or instructions, for strange constructions were comparatively sterile and esoteric.

Founded in 1984, the Turner Prize recognizes an artist of any age who is either British-born or works primarily in Britain. It gained particular prominence and notoriety during the 1990s when it was awarded to up-and-coming YBAs like Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, and Rachel Whiteread. Other notable winners include Anish Kapoor in 1991, Wolfgang Tillmans in 2000, and Grayson Perry in 2003.

 

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