Collective painting, a group of 11 artists based in Belfast, received the UK’s most coveted artistic honor, the Turner Prize, during a ceremony held in Coventry under the bombed-out buttresses of the Gothic cathedral that bears the town’s name. The winning piece, called Druithaib’s ball, will be on display at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum until January 12.
Designed as a two-room installation, Druithaib’s ball emulates the sÃbÃns, underground bars operating in Northern Ireland since the 1700s. To access the room, spectators first enter a dimly lit room, where circularly arranged flag poles act as sentries guarding the next room . Beyond that, what appears to be a fully functional though slightly shabby-chic waterer is actually a facsimile; no Guinness is available. Instead, banners and other ephemera with political protest slogans adorn the ceiling and walls. There’s even a TV, but instead of playing sports on the screen, footage from the Northern Ireland Screen’s digital archives is played on repeat.
It’s a year of firsts for the Turner Prize, which has never been awarded to a work from Northern Ireland. In addition, each nominee (BOSS, Cooking Sections, Project Art Works and Gentle / Radical) identifies as a collective of artists. As the winner of the Grind Prize, Array Collective will receive $ 33,000, which they plan to spend to find studio space.
The decision to name only collectives rather than individuals attracted some critical. Moreover, the overt political activism embedded in the winning work of Array Collective offended those who wanted a return to formalist art. Both critics and past winners have stepped in, calling Array Collective’s work “terrible” and the Turner Prize subject to a “very defined and performative sense of social responsibility.” According to the judges, however, âthe hopeful and vibrant artwork of Array Collective tackles pressing social and political issues affecting Northern Ireland with humor, seriousness and beautyâ¦ [The Druithaibâs Ball] translates their activism and values ââinto the gallery environment, creating a welcoming, immersive and surprising exhibition.