LONDON • Sculptor Helen Marten won the Turner Prize on Monday at a London ceremony at which the art world rallied against xenophobia and intolerance.
The prize is awarded to a British artist under 50 years old for an outstanding exhibition. It has become synonymous with controversy in its 32-year history, with previous winners including contemporary art agent provocateurs Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
London-based Marten, 31, impressed the judges with her sculptures from unusual materials such as fish skin and snooker chalk, described by the jury as "an exceptional contribution to the continuing development of contemporary visual art".
"They admire the work's poetic and enigmatic qualities, which reflect the complexities and challenges of being in the world today," said Tate Britain, the gallery which hosts the contemporary art prize.
A four-person jury led by Tate Britain's director Alex Farquhar chose the winner.
Marten won for works including Eucalyptus, Let Us In, an exhibition of her art that appeared this year at the Greene Naftali gallery in New York, and for pieces she showed at the 56th Venice Biennale last year.
She beat three other finalists to clinch the £25,000 (S$45,200) prize, while those shortlisted will each receive £5,000. Of the other finalists - multimedia artist Michael Dean, photographer Josephine Pryde and artist Anthea Hamilton - it was Hamilton's sculpture of a male backside and a series of metallic chastity belts suspended from the ceiling which gained most attention in recent weeks.
Marten, from Macclesfield in north-west England, had last month won the inaugural Hepworth Prize for Sculpture.
In her speech then, she said she would share the £30,000 prize money with her four fellow nominees because she believes "the hierarchical position of art prizes today is to a certain extent flawed", the BBC reported. She also told the BBC then that she planned to share the Turner Prize if she were to win it on Monday.
The Guardian praised Marten as a worthy winner and "an artist who thinks differently from the rest of us".
"Like flow charts and route maps, the pleasure of Marten's sculptural arrangements is in going from one part to another, to be arrested and to set off again," the newspaper said.
This year's political events - including Britain's decision to leave the European Union and the election of Mr Donald Trump as United States President - weighed heavily over the ceremony.
Receiving the award, Marten described the global outlook as "ever more precarious" and spoke out against xenophobia and the white nationalist "alt-right" movement, which has come to the fore in the US.
"I think as artists today and as people in this environment, we are deeply, deeply privileged to be sitting here with a community whose life blood is its diversity and exuberance," she said.
Poet Ben Okri, who announced the winner, praised art as "the biggest country in the world... it keeps no one out and excludes no one".
"Now that the boundaries are narrowing and hearts are hardening... I feel we need art now more than ever," he said.
Tate director Nicholas Serota said the strength of the Turner Prize lay in it encouraging people "to think about the world in new ways".
"At a time when there are fears that we in the United Kingdom are becoming more insular and more inward-looking as a nation, the Turner Prize reminds us that art opens us to new ideas," he said.
Art by the nominees is on show at a Tate Britain exhibition through Jan 2.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES