Since its inception in 1984, the Turner Prize for contemporary art has been a reliable source of controversy - an easy target for opinion-page reactionaries and art-world pranksters alike. Its position in the calendar helps, too. The prize is usually awarded, as it will be this year, a few weeks after literary journalists have finished wailing and gnashing their teeth over the destination of the Booker, guaranteeing the art prize fairly comprehensive media coverage.
Complaints about the absence of painting from the shortlist for a prize named after one of our greatest painters are an annual staple, though this year serial malcontents will have to find something else to grumble about: George Shaw has made it on to the shortlist with photorealist depictions of his native Coventry, executed in enamel model paint (together with Karla Black and Martin Boyce, who both produce sculpture and installations, and Hilary Lloyd, who works with sound, photography and video).
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this year's prize-giving, however, is the venue: it won't take place at Tate Britain, but at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. I asked the director of the Baltic, Godfrey Worsdale - one of the five judges in this year's jury, which is chaired by Tate Britain director Penelope Curtis - why he thought it was important to take the event out of London. "The Turner has been going for more than a quarter of a century," he said. "Taking it round the country is a way of refreshing it."
The plan, Worsdale explained, is for the venue for the ceremony and exhibition to alternate between Tate Britain and the regions - something that he says would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. "When I entered the art world, Britain was different from countries such as Germany, where every major city has a substantial venue for modern and contemporary art.“But that's changed. In the lifetime of the Baltic, we've seen new galleries open in Eastbourne, Colchester, Middlesbrough and Nottingham. Now we have the right kind of infrastructure in place."
"Turner Prize 2011" runs at the Baltic, Gateshead, until 8 January 2012. The winner will be announced on 5 December. For more details visit: balticmill.com