UPDATE 1-Critics' darling Price scoops UK's Turner art prize

(Writes through with winner)

LONDON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - British video artist Elizabeth

Price won the coveted Turner Prize for contemporary art on

Monday, delighting critics who had championed her film about a

fatal fire in Manchester in 1979, describing it variously as

"terrifying" and "exhilarating".

The 46-year-old was the least familiar of four artists

shortlisted for the annual prize, and she beat out the

bookmakers' favourite Paul Noble to win a cheque for 25,000

pounds ($40,000) and earn instant recognition and acclaim.

Price was honoured for her show earlier this year at the

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, near Newcastle,

where three video works were on display including one which

travelled to London for the Turner Prize exhibition.

"The Woolworths Choir of 1979" brings together photographs

of church architecture, internet clips of pop performances and

news footage of a fire in Manchester in which 10 people died.

By weaving together apparently unrelated topics and visual

styles as well as text and music, Price seeks to demonstrate

that any kind of information, be it dry, catchy or macabre, can

be transmitted in an arresting, memorable way.

Art critics, who were generally complimentary about this

year's shortlist, were fulsome in their praise of the film.

"It is 20 of the most exhilarating minutes I've ever spent

in an art gallery," said Richard Dorment of the Telegraph in his

review of the Turner Prize show at Tate Britain in London in

October. The exhibition runs until Jan. 6.

"What is more, as I watched it with mounting excitement, I

began to realise that I was in the presence of an artwork that

has the potential fundamentally to change the way knowledge is

transferred, the way we teach and the way we learn."

TONED DOWN TURNER?

The choice of an artist not immediately easy to unravel is

likely to prove popular among those in the art establishment who

believe the award needs to become more serious after several

controversial choices had undermined its credibility.

The Turner Prize has a history of provoking broader debate

about the role of art in contemporary life, but the more sober

approach also risks seeing it sidelined by the public.

The award to any artist under 50 living, working or born in

Britain has helped establish the careers of artists like Damien

Hirst and Tracey Emin.

It has also generated shrill headlines from a sceptical

press, not least when Martin Creed won in 2001 with an empty

room featuring a light that switched on and off.

The closest thing to controversy this year would have been

victory for Spartacus Chetwynd, the first pure performance

artist to make it to the shortlist who was selected for a show

she put on at the Sadie Coles HQ gallery in London.

Best known for her folksy plays, Chetwynd invites visitors

to the Tate show to prostrate themselves before a rag puppet

"oracle" in the shape of a mandrake root held reverentially by

men dressed in green.

"Craziness is everywhere in this year's Turner Prize,"

Guardian art critic Adrian Searle said in a video tour.

Noble produces less hectic, more studied art in the form of

meticulous pencil drawings of a fictional metropolis called

Nobson Newtown.

The fourth nominee was Luke Fowler, nominated for a solo

exhibition at Inverleith House, Edinburgh, which showcased his

new film exploring the life of Scottish psychiatrist, R.D.

Laing.

The 93-minute film, screened in a mini-theatre at the Tate,

divided the art establishment.

"This is undeniably a beguiling documentary," said Sunday

Telegraph arts editor Alastair Smart.

"But I wonder if, at 90 minutes long, an art gallery is the

right setting for it. This isn't so much film art as an arty

film, and its inclusion does neither Fowler nor the Turner any

favours."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)