A noticeably more mature Turner prize shortlist has been announced after organisers abandoned age restrictions and acknowledged that artists of any age can have breakthrough moments. The four artists range in age from 43 to 62 after a decision was taken to drop the upper age limit of 50, which had been in place since 1991.
Emily Pethick, the director of The Showroom and one of the judges, said it was not a conscious move to choose older artists. “We really responded to artists we felt had really deepened their practices and were at really exciting moments; we weren’t really looking at age. “It is just clear when an artist is really in their moment and that is what we really wanted to reflect.”
The Turner prize, with its stated aim to “promote public debate around new developments in contemporary British art”, annually delights and infuriates in equal measure. There could be less of the latter this year after judges chose not one but two painters, something that may please the more traditionally minded.
In truth, the list is short on the more wacky Turner prize art of previous years – no lights being turned on and off, no debating economics with gallery staff and no giant naked backside. “There is a seriousness and we are living in serious times,” said Pethick. “We felt that needed to be reflected in this year’s shortlist.”
The oldest artist competing for this year’s prize, to be staged at Ferens art gallery in Hull, is Zanzibar-born Lubaina Himid. She lives and works in Preston where she is a professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire. Himid, 62, makes paintings, prints, drawings and installations that celebrate black creativity and challenge institutional invisibility. At her solo show at Modern Art Oxford earlier this year, Himid featured paintings from a decade-long series for which she painted over pages of the Guardian, accusing the “liberal media” of “simultaneously visualising and making invisible black people’s lives”.
Himid claims that the Guardian, “no doubt in the interests of good design and witty narrative”, uses black people in a subtle way, “which could be said to undermine their identity”. Pethick said Himid was highlighting nuances around representation that “even the Guardian can be blind to. I think that’s where artists come in, to cut through things you are not seeing”.
The youngest artist is Croydon-born Rosalind Nashashibi, 43, who works primarily in film. She is shortlisted for an exhibition in California and her participation in this year’s Documenta contemporary art festival. Turner judges said they were impressed by “the depth and maturity” of her work. They highlighted two films: Electrical Gaza 2015, which combines Nashashibi’s observations of domestic life in Gaza with animated sequences, and Vivian’s Garden 2017, which tells the story of two artists, a mother and daughter, who live in the Guatemalan jungle with Mayan villagers as guardians and maids.
The painter Hurvin Anderson, from Birmingham, whose paintings explore identity and feature frequent references to his Jamaican heritage, is perhaps the best-known artist on the list.
He is shortlisted for solo exhibitions at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada. Turner judges described him as “an outstanding British painter whose art speaks to our current political moment with questions about identity and belonging”.
The fourth artist is Stuttgart-born Andrea Büttner, 45, who lives and works in London and Berlin. Her diverse practice includes printmaking, sculpture, painting, film and collaborative projects, such as working with nuns to explore religion, morality and ethics. The judges said she had a “unique approach to collaboration”, investigating subjects such as shame, poverty and vulnerability.
Bookmaker William Hill has deemed Himid the 6/4 favourite to win and Büttner a 4/1 outsider.
Works by the four artists will be displayed at Ferens as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations, which will run from 26 September until 7 January 2018. Pethick predicted a lively, visual exhibition visitors will find intellectually stimulating. “All the artists work with colour, they work with traditional media and at the same time it is all very thoughtful work, really thinking about what it means to be a citizen in the UK,” she said.
The winner, who will receive a £25,000 prize, will be announced at a ceremony broadcast live on the BBC on 5 December. Previous winners include Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and, last year, Helen Marten. This year’s judging panel, chaired by the director of Tate Britain, Alex Farquharson, also has on it Dan Fox, the co-editor of Frieze magazine, the art critic Martin Herbert and the curator Mason Leaver-Yap.