A breathtaking view of the North Sea that captivated and inspired JMW Turner and led to the creation of a contemporary art gallery in his name has been partially blacked out for reasons many people will completely understand.
Fiona Parry, the senior curator at Turner Contemporary in Margate, said: “It represents the darkness of our contemporary moment. The darkness of the political moment in the UK and globally.”
The enormous black linen canvas covering a first-floor gallery window is the work of Oscar Murillo, one of four artists shortlisted for the Turner prize.
Works by each of the artists go on display to the public on Saturday. Margate follows Gateshead, Derry, Glasgow and Hull in playing host to the UK’s most important contemporary art prize following the decision to take it out of London every other year.
For his display, Murillo transported 20 papier-mache effigies stuffed with straw to Margate on the high-speed train from St Pancras in London.
The effigies, from the Colombian tradition of making models that are burned at new year, sit on benches staring at the blacked-out view of the sea.
The window is mostly blacked out, but not fully. “It is a glimmer of hope, I guess,” said Parry. “It is not all darkness and gloom.”
Helen Cammock, Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Tai Shani are the other shortlisted artists. All four are multidisciplinary, producing works that tackle meaty political, economic and socially important subjects.
Cammock is presenting her film The Long Note, which first showed at the Void Gallery in Derry. It is documentary style but less a documentary and more an artistic response, exploring the overlooked role of women in the civil rights movement in Derry.
Shani has created a surreal science fiction installation that represents a city built by women. It is part of a project called DC: Semiramis, inspired by The Book of the City of Ladies, which was written in 1405 by the French writer Christine de Pizan.
The committed gallerygoer can wear headphones and listen to all seven hours of the alternative universe narrative she has created.
Abu Hamdan, a Beirut-based artist born in Jordan, calls himself an audio investigator, or “private ear”.
He has installed three chilling works that originate from an investigation he undertook with Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture into the Syrian regime’s torture prison of Saydnaya.
Victoria Pomery, the director of Turner Contemporary, said it was “real thrill” to be hosting the prize. “I think the whole town is right behind us and has really risen to the challenge and been really excited. I think its impact is going to be long term,” she said.
Pomery said they had “ummed and aahed” over how many extra visitors the exhibition might generate. The hope is for it to be record breaking. “We get high numbers of visitors in any case, but we do hope that people who may never have been in the gallery before will come,” she said.
“It is not just about visitor numbers though, it is about the quality of the experience. Does seeing the four artists get people thinking about creativity and its role in our communities and society? It seems to me at this time that is really important.”
A parallel festival called Margate NOW, curated by the actor Russell Tovey, will also take place from Saturday.
The 2019 prize was initially overshadowed by the choice as lead sponsor of Stagecoach, a company co-founded and chaired by a wealthy businessman who campaigned against gay rights.
After expressions of anger, the sponsorship was mutually abandoned a day later.
The Turner prize was founded in 1984 and is one of the best-known visual arts prizes in the world. Shani is a narrow 2-1 favourite to win with the bookies.
The £25,000 winner will be named at a ceremony in Margate on 3 December.