Mixed-media artist says he is 'chuffed' to win Turner Prize

 

AT TATE Britain last night, Nick Cave named Mark Leckey as the winner of this year's Turner Prize.

The Birkenhead-born artist, bearded and long-haired, said he was: "Chuffed to bits," and that, because he "didn't expect it," he didn't have an acceptance speech ready. He was, though, the favourite among bookies and critics - though he still lambasted British critics for disparaging the quality of the shortlist.

The other three artists on the shortlist were women, including Cathy Wilkes from Northern Ireland. She had the dubious distinction of being ranked by the betting public as the most extreme outsider in the history of the prize. All the same, it is an honour for any artist to make it onto the shortlist.

The fact that Leckey's work is palpably eager to please may have helped his chances. His busy, user-friendly mixed-media pieces delve into optics, film and television - he lectures on film in Frankfurt.

His main piece in the Turner Prize exhibition is a recording of an informal lecture that meanders through a roll-call of works of high and popular culture that have influenced him in one way or another, including The Simpsons, Felix the Catand Jeff Koons's kitsch sculptures. The other shortlisted artists were Polish-born Goshka Macuga and Bangladeshi-born Runa Islam.

It has not been regarded as a vintage year for the prize, which is worth £25,000 - though the prestige is much more important than that nominal figure. Most commentators noted how lacklustre the overall exhibition was, but the general view is that the Turner has been in decline for a while.

Even Tate director Nicholas Serota's decision to hand over the chair of the selection and adjudication panel to Tate Britain director Stephen Deuchar has been interpreted as a sign of its downgrading. Deuchar's co-jurors were architect David Adjaye, curators Daniel Birnbaum, Suzanne Cotter and Jennifer Higgle.

Wilkes was born in east Belfast. She left Ireland to attend Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s and completed an MFA at the University of Ulster in the early 1990s. She worked as a fine art lecturer at Duncan Jordanstown College of Art in Dundee until 2000 and is currently based in Glasgow.

In Ireland, her work has been seen at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, the Project Arts Centre and several other venues. In recent years, she's used mannequins as well as apparently miscellaneous arrangements of disparate objects in chaotic-looking installations.

The mannequins may be seen as emblems of idealised femininity, but in Wilkes's treatment, they are invariably mired in the messy detail of everyday domestic life.

Of the other two shortlisted artists, Macuga, a "cultural archaeologist", trawled through the Tate's archives to come up with part of her two linked installations, each based on an intense relationship between pairs of important modernist artists, Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, and Paul Nash and Eileen Agar. The work explores the cross-currents of creativity in personal relationships.

Islam, who shows with Jay Jopling's prestigious White Cube Gallery, makes art films. The one that attracted most attention features a woman first regarding, then systemically shattering, a display of fine china. It's a film that appeals to the childish urge to break fragile things, loudly - an urge presumably not shared by the judges.

The Turner Prize Exhibition 2008 continues at Tate Britain, London, until January 18th.