LIVERPOOL, England, Oct 18 (Reuters) The Turner Prize, one of the art world's most controversial awards, launched Liverpool's year as European capital of culture today with a sombre shortlist of politically oriented artists.
Taking to the hometown of the Beatles in northern England for the first time to mark the city's 2008 landmark, the Turner judges picked an intriguing quartet to contest the 51,100 dollar prize.
Bookmakers have installed as favourite Mark Wallinger, who was initially nominated for ''State of Britain'', his meticulous reconstruction of the peace camp set up outside parliament by campaigner Brian Haw in protest over the Iraq war.
On display at The Tate Liverpool museum is a film of him dressed in a bear suit prowling around a Berlin museum for ten nights in a row.
Sculptor Nathan Coley is renowned for his work ''Jerusalem Syndrome'', which depicts three of the world's holiest sites in Jerusalem. Among his entries for the Turner is a neon-lit sign proclaiming ''There Will Be No Miracles Here''.
Mike Nelson is famed for his labyrinthine installations. He is exhibiting ''Amnesiac Shrine'', a maze of mirrored cubes.
Zarina Bhimji, who completes the shortlist, is much influenced by her expulsion from Uganda by the Idi Amin regime in 1974.
On display for Turner 2008 in Liverpool are a film and photographs taken from her recent travels in India, Zanzibar and East Africa.
Reflecting on the sombre tone and content of the shortlisted artists, judge Miranda Sawyer said ''We live in political times.'' Critics revel in rubbishing the Turner every year, sparking a heated debate about whether it is art. But that has not stopped up to 120,000 visitors a year flocking to see for themselves.
In 1995, the ''Bad Boy'' of British contemporary art Damien Hirst won with a pickled cow. In 2003, transvestite potter Grayson Perry wore a frilly Shirley Temple dress to accept his award.
Chris Ofili used elephant dung to adorn his 1998 winning entries, and in 2001 the prize went to Martin Creed, who won with a bare room containing a light that switched on and off.
REUTERS SKB PM1930