Grenville Davey, whose minimalistic sculptures made him the surprise winner of the 1992 Turner Prize, has died at 60. His gallery, the Somerset-based Close Ltd, said in a statement that he died at his home in Essex, England, on February 28. A cause of death was not announced.
Davey made works that often resembled nonsensical industrial objects—round forms that leaned against walls, curvaceous steel lines that twisted through space, oversized tank-like sculptures that didn’t seem functional. These works brought him fame in the U.K. during the ’90s, at a time when shock tactics and styles influenced by commercial objects were in vogue.
“Davey’s sculptures refer ambiguously to objects from everyday life, yet the fact that they have obviously been made by the artist suggests that the works keep their distance from the kind of neo-Dadaism, or neo-Popism, which is prevalent in the work of other young British artists,” a description for a 1992 Davey show at the Chisenhale Gallery in London read.
The year of the Chinsenhale show, Davey won that year’s Turner Prize, a touted annual award for U.K.-based artists that at the time was known primarily for controversial choices that did not play well with the general public. Indeed, because Davey was lesser-known than some others nominated, his win was unpopular. “Brit Art-Prize Fiasco: Grenville Who?” read the headline for the story announcing his win in the Wall Street Journal.
He beat out Damien Hirst for the award that year, and took home £20,000. But he did not want the attention that came with the win and sought to distance himself from the center of the British art scene. “It was good to get away,” he told the Guardian in 2007, recalling his win.
Born in the British town of Launceston in 1961, Davey first received widespread notices in 1987, when he had a show at Lisson Gallery in London. “This exhibition of sculpture by Grenville Davey was a remarkably assured show from one so recently out of college,” critic Michael Archer wrote in an Artforum review of that solo outing. Davey’s work went on to appear in shows at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, the Hayward Gallery in London, and elsewhere. His most recent solo exhibition was at Close Ltd in 2019.
Some have dismissed Davey’s work as being overly indebted to Minimalism and other movements with a formalist bent. “The fragmentation which typifies the current stage of Davey’s work has overtones of virtuosity, of an exercise that may become a tiresome game with rules which have too little bearing on the world outside the gallery, indeed outside Davey’s mind,” Stuart Morgan wrote in Frieze of the Chisenhale show.
But Davey did not only describe his work in formal terms. In an interview conducted by Tate ahead of an appearance in an exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Turner Prize in 2007, he said, “The work has quite strong relationships with some things that you might see in the world, and it’s a celebration of those daily or almost sometimes mundane things that you might come across.”