'Craziness everywhere' at UK Turner Prize for art

The British award has raised public appreciation of contemporary art.

LONDON - One of contemporary art's most prestigious awards is announced later on Monday, and members of the Turner Prize jury must decide between the first performance artist to be nominated, two filmmakers and the creator of obsessively detailed drawings.

The British award, which helped establish the careers of top artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, has pushed contemporary art into the public domain, although opinion over the quality of works on display has always been sharply divided.

Hirst was presented with the prize in 1995 for a pickled cow and in 2001 an empty room with a light that switched on and off clinched the prize for Martin Creed.

The closest thing to a shock this year could be victory for Spartacus Chetwynd, billed as the first pure performance artist to make it to the shortlist who has been chosen for a show she put on at the Sadie Coles HQ gallery in London.

Artists living, working or born in Britain aged under 50 are eligible for the $40,000 prize, and they are selected for an outstanding exhibition of their work staged in the last 12 months.

Actor Jude Law will present the award at London's Tate Britain gallery, which is hosting an exhibition of the four nominated artists, and the evening announcement will be broadcast live on Channel 4.

Chetwynd is best known for her folksy plays, and one of those being performed at the Tate invites visitors to prostrate themselves before a rag puppet "oracle" in the shape of a mandrake root held reverentially by men dressed in green.

The second theatrical installation involves hooded puppeteers in childish clown-like costumes performing a play from a passage in the Bible where the Jews decide to have Barabbas released instead of Jesus.

"Craziness is everywhere in this year's Turner Prize," said Guardian art critic Adrian Searle in his video tour of the Tate's show, which runs until Jan. 6, 2013.

Bookmakers' favorite Paul Noble produces less hectic, more studied art in the form of meticulous pencil drawings of a fictional metropolis called Nobson Newtown, and he was shortlisted for an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London.

Luke Fowler made it to the final four for a solo exhibition at Inverleith House, Edinburgh, which showcased his new film exploring the life of Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing.

The 93-minute film, screened in a mini-theatre at the Tate, has divided the art establishment.

"This is undeniably a beguiling documentary," wrote Sunday Telegraph arts editor Alastair Smart.

"But I wonder if, at 90 minutes long, an art gallery is the right setting for it. This isn't so much film art as an arty film, and its inclusion does neither Fowler nor the Turner any favours."

The fourth finalist is Elizabeth Price, whose video installation "The Woolworths Choir of 1979" brings together photographs of church architecture, internet clips of pop performances and news footage of a fire in Manchester in 1979 in which 10 people died.