Art and design

Books

Culture

Environment

Fashion

Film

Life and style

Money

Music

Politics

Science

Technology

Travel

Television

US news

World news

Rule change frees Turner prize from wearisome focus on the new | Adrian Searle

A Fashionable Marriage, 1987, by Lubaina Himid
A Fashionable Marriage, 1987, by Lubaina Himid. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

It feels inevitable that Lubaina Himid should win the Turner prize for 2017, a year in which she has had concurrent solo shows at Modern Art Oxford and Spike Island in Bristol and a significant presence in The Place is Here, a travelling exhibition about Black British art in the 1980s, beginning at Nottingham Contemporary.

There, her 1987 tableau A Fashionable Marriage – a take on William Hogarth’s Marriage à la Mode, restaged as a series of large cut-out figures – had a giddy, comic and sprawling vitality, holding its own among other key works of the decade including Black Audio Film Collective’s Handsworth Songs (directed by John Akomfrah) and Isaac Julien’s early film Territories.

But in her Turner prize show in Hull, A Fashionable Marriage feels constrained. Shown alongside a group of reworked, adumbrated pages from the Guardian (a series begun 10 years ago, and continuing), a single recent painting and a set of decorative Lancaster crockery and tablewear that Himid has overpainted with acrylic figures, scenes and portraits, it adds up to an uneven show that lacks coherence.

Made in 2007, the Lancaster Dinner Service is a barbed reflection on the slave trade, British class and the collision of cultures. Part obliteration, part excavation, part chronicle and part fiction, riffing on fat squires, vomiting bewigged youths, a whole cast of 18th- and 19th-century caricatures, and mixing them with images of black slaves and servants, as well as patterns from Nigeria and Mali, the work shows what a powerful graphic artist Himid can be. This is where the pleasure of her art really lies.

Himid’s art is interested as much in ideas as in objects, in histories as much as in paintings. Her tableaux of often larger-than-life cut-out and painted figures, crowds and groups, have both a cartoonish boisterousness and vitality that her paintings often seem to lack. Himid studied theatre design at the Slade, and the theatricality of her best work enables her to make serious points – about ethnicity and history, origin and arrival – without getting bogged down. Her art has a surprising lightness. This is a strength.

But it is odd to have a Turner prize show that relies more on past achievements than on the present, though it does free the Turner from its sometimes wearisome and perpetual focus on the new. In any case, for many viewers, Himid’s art is a surprise.

Dropping the upper age limit of Turner prize nominees (a rule imposed in 1991) is a good thing; I wouldn’t exclude any artist on the basis of age. But it is not a valedictory award.

More and more older artists who have previously been sidelined, ignored and overlooked are being re-evaluated when they are no longer sexy, hot and under 30. Himid has been showing for decades. I first saw her work in the early 1980s. The sculptor Phyllida Barlow only began achieving wide international recognition in her 60s. The painter Rose Wylie – at 83, 20 years Himid’s senior – has her first major show in a public gallery now, to much acclaim, at the Serpentine. Keep at it long enough, at a high enough level, and things will happen.

Are we looking at a whole career, at the current exhibition, at the enthusiasm carried over by Himid’s recent re-evaluation? A bit of all of these, for sure. And there is no doubt that as a campaigner for black artists, a teacher and lecturer and, in her way, something of an establishment figure, Himid is a good thing.

I doubt any of the other contenders will object to her winning the 2017 prize. I just wish her art did more for me. Rosalind Nashashibi’s recent films, and especially Vivian’s Garden, which I thought deserved the prize just on its own account, are what I’ll take away with me, to think about and want to see again, which is the most you can want of any art. That in itself is a prize.

This article titled "Rule change frees Turner prize from wearisome focus on the new" was written by Adrian Searle, for The Guardian on Tuesday 5 December 2017 09.50pm

Art and design

Could a Channel bridge be as bold and beautiful as these marvels?

The clown king of novelty infrastructure fantasies has once again stolen the limelight with his… Read more

Andreas Gursky review – godlike visions from the great chronicler of our age

Over the last two decades, Andreas Gursky has become the most significant image-maker of our time.… Read more

Andreas Gursky review – a world in dizzying high definition

Too good to be true: that is the art of the German photographer Andreas Gursky. His monumental… Read more

Titian painting given to Charles I's plumber goes up for sale

A Titian painting once owned by Charles I and given to his plumber as part payment for money owed… Read more

Banksy painting saved from derelict container on Dungeness beach

An authentic Banksy image has been recovered from a derelict container on Dungeness beach in Kent… Read more

Fresh hope for art loan schemes | Letters

Professor Terry Gifford’s letter (Welcome return of School Prints loans, 18 January) prompted me to… Read more

The rural bites back, Gursky triumphs and Bridget Riley keeps it trippy – the week in art

Exhibition of the week Andreas Gursky Sublime images of the capitalist world by an epic artist of… Read more

A blueprint for British housing in 2028

It is 2028, and in the old mill towns of east Lancashire terraced houses once destined for… Read more

The Land We Live In – The Land We Left Behind review: Bilbo Baggins with mulch and menace

It is all going down at Durslade Farm, Hauser & Wirth’s Somerset art venture. There will be… Read more

The Hayward Gallery: a brutal beauty remade – review

It is said that when a footballer returns from a long period of injury it’s like getting a new… Read more