Personal Favorite : Mark Titchner
It's Turner prize time again: the annual occasion for a national punch-up over contemporary art, when four artists are lined up in order to be pilloried, praised and passionately fought over before one of them - not infrequently, the one least expected to do so - is awarded a cheque for £25,000.
It is, in short, always something of a soap opera, which is why it is particularly appropriate that, as part of his section of the exhibition at Tate Britain in London shortlisted artist Phil Collins has set up a fully operational TV production office, called Shady Lane Productions.
Collins is asking members of the public to contact the office if they have had a damaging experience as a result of appearing on a reality or makeover show.
He will then invite participants to tell their side of the story, unedited, for a resulting programme called The Return of the Real, a sort of "what-happened-next". Collins's own reaction to his shortlisting was: "I thought about it for a week. It felt like that moment in [the film] Carrie when she has a bucket of blood thrown over her and is made a fool of on a grand scale."
Lizzie Carey-Thomas, one of the Tate curators who has put together this year's exhibition, said that this year's artists "cover all bases". Apart from film-maker Collins, the other shortlisted contenders are a painter, a sculptor and an installation artist. It is the second year running a painter has made the shortlist. Tomma Abts's non-representational oils, unvaryingly 38cm by 48cm, are made, as Ms Carey-Thomas put it, "with no source material, no sketches and no preconceived idea of how they will end up". Working with a combination of utter precision and total intuition she applies paint until, gradually, a shape emerges, though the work may go through wildly differing stages before the final form is found. Ms Abts says that the painting is complete when "it suddenly has an atmosphere and makes you feel something". The work is then given a title using a dictionary of first names from a particular region of Germany.
The other contenders are Rebecca Warren, whose clay sculptures reference figures such as Rodin and Dégas and whose lumpy, bumpy, hyper-feminine forms gently debunk her artistic forebears; and Mark Titchner, whose installations draw on defunct belief systems and outmoded science to "question the codes by which we live today", according to Tate curator Katharine Stout.
The unveiling of the exhibition was, however, overshadowed by comments made at the weekend by one of this year's jurors. Journalist Lynn Barber, writing in the Observer and breaking the convention that jurors remain silent at least until the prize is awarded, quoted an extract from her diary saying that she felt "demoralised, disillusioned, and full of dark fears that I have been stitched up - that actually the art world has already decided who will win the 2006 Turner prize and that I am brought in purely as a fig leaf". She also said the experience of being a Turner prize judge had "seriously dampened" her enthusiasm for contemporary art and that she had tried to "warn off" a colleague, writer Miranda Sawyer, from accepting an invitation to become a juror for the 2007 prize.
Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, said of Barber's article: "I think it was tongue in cheek. This was a very personal account of how she found the process and very good-humoured. I'm very relaxed about it - she's very engaging and slightly self-deprecating and honest."
This year's prize is awarded in a ceremony at Tate Britain on December 3. The winner will receive £25,000 and the runners-up £5,000 each. This year's jurors, apart from Ms Barber, are Margot Heller, director of the South London Gallery; Matthew Higgs, director of White Columns gallery, New York; and Andrew Renton, director of the curating course at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Chairing the jury is Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota.
According to Sir Nicholas, the prize "cannot possibly cover the full range of new developments, nor survey all that is important in contemporary art in Britain. Nor is the prize intended either as a long-service medal, or as a forcing ground for new talent. It answers the simple questions, what were the exhibitions, which were the works of art and who were the artists whose work had the strongest and most enduring impact this year on this group of individuals, the jury?" To be eligible artists must be under 50 and living or working in Britain. Previous winners since the prize's inauguration in 1984 have included Martin Creed (2001), Chris Ofili (1998), and Damien Hirst (1995).