Cardiff needs an outstanding contemporary art gallery if it’s to compete on the national arts stage

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead is home to this year’s Turner Prize exhibition. But, how long will it be before Cardiff can expect to share this honour?

The northern home of British art: The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead

The winner of the notoriously divisive Turner Prize was announced this week at a ceremony in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. The £25,000 prize, one of contemporary art’s highest cash prizes, was awarded to installation artist and sculptor Martin Boyce.

Boyce, a graduate from the Glasgow School of Art, wrestled against sculptor Karla Black, video artist Hilary Lloyd, and painter George Shaw to claim the coveted award for his installation ‘Do Words Have Voices.’

Boyce seems to approach art with an architectural sensibility, as he evokes distinctly urban landscapes by injecting sculptural details into his work. While it appears cold and brittle at first glance, Boyce imbues his installations with a sense of Modernism’s history, which suggests the underlying potential for something more romantic. In fact, Boyce’s treatment and approach to Modernist forms means that the angular and geometric shapes shown in Gateshead allow him to play with the idea of creating a shared architectural space, rather than just a series of sterile objects suspended and arranged arbitrarily.

Although the Turner Prize is largely considered the most controversial art prize in Britain, it provides an important and inclusive platform for popular debate; it gives a cross section of society the opportunity to comment on the state of British art.

This year marks the first year that the Turner Prize exhibition show has broken through the walls of the Tate galleries. The fact that Turner Prize organisers have fled London and ventured North suggests that it is attempting to make itself more accessible. Is this move the art world’s most daring public admission to date that London is not the linchpin around which all of the UK’s most high profile competitions, events and exhibitions must take place?

Like Cardiff, the North East of England, including Newcastle and the Gateshead Metropolitan area, has undergone vast urban renewal in recent years. These places have transformed themselves from cities on the cusp of urban deterioration, as a result of industrial decline, into promising cultural centres. However, unlike the North East where they have built facilities capable of housing art exhibitions like the Turner Prize, Cardiff fails to engage and promote contemporary visual arts in the same way. While Cardiff enjoys a bounty of theatrical venues and has been, for the most part, successful in fostering an increasingly continental culture in its city centre, it fails to provide an adequate exhibition space for Welsh, British and international artists. While this may not seem like the be all and end all to the success of the arts, specifically visual arts, in Cardiff, the fact that the city is devoid of a large-scale contemporary art gallery undermines its position as a key player on Britain’s cultural stage.

So, with the promise that the Turner Prize exhibition will show in different cities around the UK, every other year, from 2013 onwards – what hope is there that Cardiff can enjoy playing host to the British art calendar’s seminal event?

Without that much needed gallery space, it seems unlikely.

Tate Wales, anyone?

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